While watching your favorite TV show on Netflix or Prime Video, you have probably seen “TV-MA” appear in the upper left corner of your TV screen.
If you’re unfamiliar with it, you’re probably wondering – what does TV MA mean?
Why does it appear at the start of TV programs?
In this article, I’ll explain what “TV-MA” is and the ratings designed to help parents choose which TV shows they should allow their children to watch.
What does TV MA mean?
TV MA means a TV program is for Mature Audience Only. The TV show is made to be viewed by adults and may be unsuitable for children below the age of 17. The show may have strong language, explicit sexual content, or graphic violence.
TV MA is part of the TV Parental Guidelines (or TV ratings) that were created to give parents information about the content and age-appropriateness of TV programs.
What are the TV Parental Guidelines?
In the 90s, the public had growing concerns about the increase in profanity, sexual activity, and violence in TV programs.
And in 1996, former US President Bill Clinton signed the Telecommunications Act into law. The law urged the entertainment industry to create a voluntary TV rating system.
These TV ratings would provide parents with advanced information on the TV program that may or may not be suitable for their kids.
Before the end of 1996, the TV industry and the US Congress announced the TV Parental Guidelines. And by 1997, the ratings took effect.
The TV Parental Guidelines contain six ratings:
The TV program is appropriate for all children. The themes and elements in these TV programs are made for a very young audience.
The TV program is created for children aged 7 and above. These TV shows may be more appropriate for children who can distinguish between make-believe and reality.
The themes and elements of these programs may contain some fantasy or comedic violence.
The TV program is suitable for all ages. TV shows under this rating are not necessarily created for children. But parents can let them watch unattended.
These shows contain little to no violence, little to no sexual dialogue or situations, and no strong language.
The TV program may be unsuitable for young children. Parents are advised to guide their children when watching these TV shows.
These programs usually have some suggestive dialogue, some sexual situations, and mild violence.
The TV program may be inappropriate for children aged 14 and below. Parents are strongly advised to monitor their children watching these programs.
These shows may contain strong coarse language, intensely suggestive dialogue, intense sexual situations, and intense violence.
The TV program is made to be viewed by adults only. These programs may not be suitable for children aged 17 and below.
The TV shows with this rating have crude indecent language, explicit sexual activity, and graphic violence.
What are the different content descriptors?
Under the TV ratings, you may have also seen some additional letters below it and may be wondering what they are about.
These letters are called content descriptors or content labels. They were added in 1997 when the TV ratings were revised.
Content descriptors were included in the TV ratings so parents would have specific information about a TV show’s content.
Using the content descriptors, parents will know if the program contains the following:
- suggestive dialogue
- crude language
- sexual situations
- fantasy violence (for children’s TV programs)
Here are the different content descriptors:
D – Suggestive Dialogue
A TV program with sexual references or innuendos will have a “D” content descriptor. It is often used with TV-PG and TV-14 ratings.
L – Coarse or Crude Language
The TV show contains coarse or crude language if you see an “L” under the TV ratings. That may include profanity, racial slurs, vulgar slang, and more.
S – Sexual Situations
An “S” content descriptor means the TV program has sexual situations or content. That includes scenes with nudity or intercourse. It is often used with TV-PG, TV-14, and TV-MA ratings.
V – Violence
TV shows with a “V” content descriptor include scenes of violence. Displays of drug use are usually also included in this descriptor. It is often used with TV-PG, TV-14, and TV-MA.
FV – Fantasy Violence
An “FV” content descriptor means the children’s TV program has some fantasy violence. It is only used with the TV-Y7 rating.
Are all TV programs rated?
The TV Parental Guidelines apply to most TV programs.
However, certain TV shows like sports and news programs are not subject to TV ratings. Home shopping and religious programs may also not have a rating.
Even made-for-TV movies are rated using the TV Parental Guidelines. Theatrical movies that are shown on TV, on the other hand, are usually edited or cut first by cable or broadcast networks. After the edit, they are also given a TV rating.
What are some of the most popular TV-MA shows?
TV-MA may be considered the most diverse of all the TV ratings.
A wide range of TV shows has a TV-MA rating, from Grey’s Anatomy to Game of Thrones.
Even the sports comedy series Ted Lasso has a TV-MA rating. While the show is generally lighthearted and has positive themes, it also tackles mature topics like sex and infidelity. Some episodes of Ted Lasso also contain strong or crude language.
Here’s a list of some of the most popular TV shows with a TV-MA rating:
- The Walking Dead
- House of the Dragon
- Rick and Morty
- Game of Thrones
- Grey’s Anatomy
- Ted Lasso
- Peaky Blinders
- The Sopranos
- It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
- The Simpsons
- Breaking Bad
- Arrested Development
What’s the difference between TV-MA and Rated R?
The main difference between TV-MA and Rated R is that they classify different things. TV-MA is used for TV programs, while Rated R is for movies.
Another key difference is their position on their respective rating systems. TV-MA is the most restrictive rating a TV show could get. On the other hand, Rated R isn’t – it’s only the second most restrictive, as the most restrictive movie rating is NC-17.
TV-MA means a TV program is for adults and may not be suitable for children 17 and below.
Rated R means a movie can be watched by children 17 and below as long as a parent or adult guardian accompanies them. While NC-17 means no one under the age of 17 can be admitted.
That means the TV-MA rating usually contains content that can be classified under both Rated R and NC-17.
That’s why there are times when a TV-MA-rated TV show can be more graphic or severe than a Rated R movie.
How to prevent children from watching TV-MA shows
To prevent your children from watching TV-MA shows, you’ll need to set up Parental Controls on your TV.
Enabling Parental Controls is different from one TV brand to another.
Suppose you have a Samsung TV. You can enable Parental Controls by following these steps:
- Go to Settings > Broadcasting > Program Rating Lock Settings
- Enter your PIN (the default is “0000”)
- Turn Program Rating Lock on
- Select TV Rating
- Select TV-MA to lock it and block programs
If you have an LG TV, you can turn Parental Controls on by:
- Press your remote’s Settings button
- Go to All Settings > Safety
- Toggle the Safety button on
- Enter your password (the default is “0000”)
- Select TV Ratings Lock and block TV-MA programs
Here are the links to the Parental Control guide of other popular TV brands:
However, setting up Parental Controls on your TV may not be enough.
In today’s era of smart TVs and streaming devices, your children can download different apps where they can stream content that may have a TV-MA rating.
If they have smartphones or tablets, they can also use that to access or watch programs that are inappropriate for their age.
Fortunately, most TVs and smartphones allow you to lock the app store as a whole or restrict downloading specific apps. For your children to access them, they will be required to enter a password.
You may also want to enable Parental Controls inside the streaming apps themselves. For instance, you can restrict access to shows with TV-MA ratings for your children’s profiles on Netflix or Disney+.
TV MA means a TV show is for Mature Audience Only. The TV show is for adults and may be unsuitable for children below the age of 17.
The programs with TV-MA ratings may contain strong language, explicit sexual content, or graphic violence.
TV shows with a TV-MA rating are diverse. It includes popular programs like Grey’s Anatomy, Game Thrones, and Ted Lasso.
A TV-MA TV show and a Rated R movie may have the same adult content. However, TV-MA programs can be more graphic or severe.
To prevent your children from watching TV-MA shows, set up Parental Controls on your TV, the app store, and the streaming apps they have access to.