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The time after which "adult" content, i.e. programs with a lot of intense violence, coarse language, 'naughty' bits, etc. can be shown. One interesting thing a character cannot do before the watershed is die with their eyes open. (Although, for some reason, being already dead with your eyes open is fine.)
Usually 9 PM in the UK, the US and Canada. Somewhere between 8.30 and 9.30 pm in Australia. In Japan, which has more liberal views on acceptable content to begin with, the "Otaku Hour" starts at "25 o'clock" (1 AM). In Germany that would be 10 p.m. for movies free for age 16+ and midnight for 18+ .
Compare to Safe Harbor, which is a legally defined characteristic of U.S. FCC policy. (It's like they're trying to make you need to get up and go to the bathroom with all this hydraulic terminology...)
Also note that in the UK, no such Watershed exists for Radio meaning there are a long list of words that can't be said under any circumstances.
Named for the earthen barriers at the edges of a farm field, which prevent irrigation water from crossing to a neighboring field. This allows two adjacent fields to be on very different watering schedules so that different crops can be planted there. When driving past a farm on the highway, you'll see row after row of (say) asparagus, then a watershed will pass and suddenly you're seeing row after row of rutabagas.
- Japan's Otaku Hour has brought several anime series based on "ero-ren'ai games" - incorrectly known as "hentai games" in the US. These are usually cleaned up for TV and shown during the Otaku Hour.
- There are also live action dramas that play during Otaku Hour, usually with more extreme content than usual. Two examples spring to mind, both of which played on the same time slot on the same network -- a live action version of the adult manga / anime Hen (known as "Strange Love" in the US), which had a scene of the two Schoolgirl Lesbians skinny dipping and making out in the school pool, and Invisible Girl Ea, revolving around the titular young woman Ea, who spends the entire 6 episode series very obviously nude with the excuse that clothing causes her invisibility powers to freak out.
- The fact that North America (the US and Canada especially) spans over a very large number of time zones makes the issue of a watershed time problematic. In Hawaii, Cartoon Network's Adult Swim starts at 7:00 PM.
- EST has Cartoon Network West, which airs Adult Swim until 9 AM. Family Guy is on at 6 and 6:30 AM.
- When Erin Brockovich was on CTV, because of the timeslot it was in and the length of the movie, the first half of the movie was censored and the second half was not. It was quite the surprise to be greeted after the commercial break with a triumphant "fuck you!"
- Subverted by the CBC, which doesn't really seem to care about the watershed; they've shown language to make a sailor blanch on the six o'clock news. There are certain things only the MotherCorp can get away with.
- Although the CRTC has hit them at least once.
- Los Angeles' CW affiliate is available on cable and satellite TV on the west coast going in as far as Arizona, which doesn't observe Daylight Saving Time.
- Because of this, "post-Watershed" in America doesn't mean a whole heck of a lot, especially on Network Television. NYPD Blue gave us the occasional flash of male backside, but for the most part, post-Watershed shows might get away with the occasional utterance of "Bitch" and that's about it. On the other hand, cable is more relaxed than network, pay channels like HBO are more relaxed than cable, and the levels of what they get away with varies accordingly.
- For a while in the UK, the watershed seemed to be 9:30. There were episodes of Hell's Kitchen where Chef Ramsay would be bleeped for the first half hour, but not the second. Quite amusing.
- The watershed is not meant to be an absolute dividing line where anyone with any sensitivities should instantly stop watching, because it's recognised that people sometimes leave the TV on just to see what's next. Channels have been reprimanded when they've shown something at 9:00 which immediately starts with a Cluster F-Bomb or a graphic sex or Gorn scene.
- Conversely, films rated 15 have been known to be screened with an 8:30 start on the rationale that most of the film will indeed be after the watershed. They'd be unlikely to get away with bending the rules like this for a film rated 18, though. Sky Movies has an 8 pm watershed for 15 films and a 10 pm watershed for 18 films.
- The rules are slightly more relaxed for pay TV, although not much. A free-to-air channel would struggle to get away with the same thing.
- Doctor Who (and Torchwood, by extension) seems to be pushing the envelope as far as it can to see what it can get away with pre-Watershed. The parent programme is aired in one of the most successful television spots in the country (Saturday evening) and can get away with quite a lot including male-on-male kissing, dying with eyes open, several bondage scenes and Davros' shirtless scene. The second series of Torchwood had watered-down airings of episodes at 7pm on Wednesday, but was still quite risqué.
- Doctor Who has always done this, with its infamously high body count. The mid seventies in particular was especially graphic, often showing impalements, decapitations and blood squibs with brutally graphic detail.
- On the subject of Doctor Who, Tennant's portrayal of Hamlet was aired in the early evening during Christmas 2009. Their interpretation of the famous Country Matters line was so heavy handed you wonder how they got away with it.
- If it's Shakespeare, it's educational!
- UK police drama The Bill is an interesting case study. It started out in 1984 as a series shown in the late evening, after the watershed, meaning it had liberal cases of sex, violence and nudity (it was in this period that it was at its most gritty and realistic). In 1988 the production team decided to move the programme to be broadcast before the watershed, which meant such things were quickly toned down and, eventually, removed altogether. It ran in this pre-watershed timeslot for most of its life, however in 2009 the decision was made to move it back to being broadcast after the watershed, at 9pm.
- The watershed was outright invoked on Top Gear in the "Top Ground Gear Force" special, since the special aired beyond the watershed when the show's normal timeslot is before it. A very annoyed James May stopped to verify the special was airing beyond the watershed before dropping a Precision F-Strike. It was still cut off by a hard cut to Richard Hammond, though.
- Lampshaded in The Late Late Show, especially when Craig Ferguson does a lot of (censored) swearing.
- According to the censors, Geoff Peterson can get away with a hand gesture resembling masturbation because he doesn't have genitalia.
- One of the most notable breaches of the watershed in Britain was the infamous Bill Grundy interview with the Sex Pistols in 1976. Grundy provoked them into saying all sorts of swear words - during prime time viewing hours.