Young Sheldon has been fined by the FCC for misusing the Emergency Alert System tone. Created by Chuck Lorre and Steven Molaro, CBS’s Young Sheldon is a spinoff prequel to The Big Bang Theory. Following Jim Parson's character, Sheldon Cooper, in his socially challenging adolescent years, Young Sheldon stars Iain Armitage as the titular boy.
Infused with easter egg references to the original series, Young Sheldon has stood on its own as a successful sitcom. The series has been renewed up to season 4. An episode from season 1, however, is facing backlash from the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) for evoking the Emergency Alert System tone. Designed as a national public warning mechanism, the Emergency Alert System provides a platform to address the public in the event of a national emergency, dangerous weather conditions, and Amber Alerts. The pulsing high-pitched buzz is captivating and distinct. Young Sheldon’s episode, “A Mother, A Child, and A Blue Man’s Backside”, featured a character watching Looney Tunes that's interrupted by a tornado watch. Bearing a striking resemblance to the EAS tones, the sound effect could cause Young Sheldon a hefty fine.
According to CNBC, Young Sheldon has violated the rules of the FCC. CBS claims the tornado warning sound effects were concealed by character dialogue and modified as to not present EAS tones themselves. Claiming misuse of the Emergency Alert System, the FCC proposes a $272,000 fine against the network. The FCC clarified the reasons why the tones should only be used in actual emergencies or authorized tests.
Unauthorized use of the EAS Tones undermines the EAS and presents a substantial threat to public safety. The underlying policy concern is not limited only to potential listener confusion at the moment of the improper broadcast of the EAS Tones; the Commission also has warned that the use of simulated or actual EAS Tones for non-authorized purposes – such as commercial or entertainment purposes – can lead to a dangerous ‘cry-wolf effect’ or ‘alert fatigue.’
Moving forward, the FCC is allowing CBS a grace period to respond and will consider legal arguments to resolve the matter. Young Sheldon is not the only series to strike a wrong chord with the FCC. Last month, ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live received a $395,000 fine for simulating alert tones in a skit. AMC’s The Walking Dead also breached FCC rules and was fined $104,000 for using the tone - a noise that would no doubt allure zombies.
The FCC appears to be cracking down on uses of emergency alerts in television shows. Given the recent events of horrific weather conditions and potential dangers, the distinctive sound could confuse viewers. Overall, the hefty fines on high-profile shows serve as a cautionary tale for series contemplating storylines that might include the Emergency Alert tones. The seasoned creative team behind Young Sheldon could've no doubt formulated a solution to translate the authenticity of an emergency to the screen, without invoking the distinctive tones in question.