“Wait, Danny, Danny that doesn’t go there.”

On the Oct. 7 episode of “The Mindy Project,” Mindy and Danny did something they had never done before — and it made television history. As the camera held its position outside the bedroom, Mindy and Danny’s escapade echoed. Danny’s response (and also the title of the episode): “I slipped.”

It was the “I slipped” heard ‘round the world. OK, “The Mindy Project” remains one of the lowest rated shows on television, so it was more like the “I slipped” heard ‘round The Michigan Daily Arts desk. But regardless, Mindy and Danny did make TV history. Their sex scene — and the remainder of the episode, which focused on the true motive behind said “slip” — was the first time anal sex had been so pervasive on an episode of broadcast television. And just one week later, another series picked up where “Mindy” left off. In the fourth episode of ABC’s “How to Get Away with Murder,” “Let’s Get to Scooping,” a character proclaims, “He did something to my ass that made my eyes water,” immediately following a graphic sex scene.

That’s right: in a year that will already be remembered for the media’s infatuation with rear-ends (thanks in no small part to Nicki Minaj, J.Lo and Iggy Azalea), anal sex is becoming one of fall TV’s latest trends. But “The Mindy Project” and “Murder” are just two instances of the recent attempts to push the boundaries of what’s acceptable on broadcast television.

To be clear, even the discussion of sex of any kind on broadcast should already be considered a decisive victory, especially when you realize that Lucille Ball couldn’t even say the word “pregnant” on “I Love Lucy” in the 1950s — CBS deemed it too vulgar for the network. And even today, broadcast television remains one of the most highly regulated forms of entertainment, the kind of regulation that continues to deter top talent from “The Big Four” networks.

On premium cable networks like HBO or Showtime, you expect sex. You pay for it. HBO and Showtime even still have their own pornographic programming, so it’s no surprise when boobs show up on “Game of Thrones” or when Joan Cusack and William H. Macy engage in their own exploration of the derrière on “Shameless.” Broadcast networks are inherently different. They’re free networks still operating in the shadow of 1950s decency standards and a history of catering to the wholesome American family. “How to Get Away with Murder” shares a network with “America’s Funniest Home Videos” and just last week, “Grey’s Anatomy” was preempted in the 8 p.m. hour for “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown,” as if the two are interchangeable.

But broadcast television’s insistence on pushing the envelope is a reaction (a desperate reaction?) to their diminished influence and viewership. If you ask ten people to name their favorite show, it’s almost assured that every response will be a cable series, which is exactly what happened when I did — “House of Cards,” “Mad Men,” “The Americans,” “The Newsroom,” “Californication,” etc. (The only non-cable favorite was a lone “New Girl.”) There’s no way around it: sex sells. But it’s not just sex. Cable affords viewers the gritty, sexy, violent, fun escapism they look for. And because broadcast television is no longer the omnipresent, only-option for consumers, isn’t it time we rethink network standards?

Recently, that’s exactly what has happened. In addition to pushing the amount of explicit content in its series — hence, the anal sex TV movement of 2014 — broadcast networks have even begun to formally change the dialogue. In 2013, FOX filed a 42-page comment at the FCC urging that the agency “cease attempting to enforce broadcast indecency limits once and for all.” In fact, every broadcast network has lodged complaints that the current indecency rules are archaic. “Americans today, including children, spend more time engaged with non-broadcast channels delivered by cable and satellite television, the Internet, video games and other media than they do with broadcast media.”

Broadcast television’s increased propensity to show sex — all kinds of sex — is nothing more than a product of the current television landscape. But that doesn’t diminish the magnitude of its presence. On “How to Get Away with Murder” sex is one of the series’ defining characteristics, as prominent as the law or criminality or Viola Davis — the pilot episode features both cunnilingus and not-so-subtly suggests other similar sex acts. In a later episode, Davis confronts her cheating husband with the question, “Why is your penis on a dead girl’s phone?” (Those #ninewords were trending the night the episode premiered.) On the most recent episode of “Scandal,” Olivia dreams of having sex with both Fitz and Jake in a scene reminiscent of another explicit broadcast drama, the artfully directed double sex scene from the second season of “Hannibal.” Even on “Black-ish,” a so-called family comedy, Rainbow points downward while her husband asks if she’s going to sneak him in the Underground Railroad. (Think about it …)

Sex — on any network — has undoubtedly become a foundation of television in the modern age, and no matter the vice, broadcast television networks have always challenged the powers of the FCC. But we’re at a strange point now, as of the last few weeks, where you can talk about anal sex — or strongly suggest it visually — but you can’t say the word “asshole” or “blow job” or “Christ” (as an expletive). The bottom line: network standards are reaching a breaking point.

Sex sells, and broadcast television is just trying to get in on the action.

Alec Stern can be reached at alecs@umich.edu and @AlecHaydenStern on Twitter

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