NEW YORK — House and Senate bills to let the TV industry adopt voluntary guidelines to curb sex, violence and scenes glorifying drug abuse in entertainment shows aren't necessary, NBC and ABC officials said Wednesday.
CBS, which in the 1970s had a chief executive who proposed what briefly became the industry's "family viewing hour" at the start of prime time, said it wasn't sure such new cable and broadcast guidelines would work.
All three said their own program standards are sufficient guards against excess in their entertainment shows. None said they opposed the measures, but ABC said that "we don't feel that an antitrust exemption is desireable or necessary."
They were commenting on the House's 399-18 approval Tuesday of a bill to give the cable, broadcast and production industries a three-year exemption to the Sherman Antitrust Act that would let them try to develop and adopt their own guidelines for curbing violent programming. The Senate unanimously passed a similar bill in May, with an amendment that also would allow discussions about reducing scenes involving drug use and sex.
The differences will have to be worked out in a House-Senate conference committee in September and then, if approved by Congress, will be sent to President Bush for signing.
The legislation is the result of new waves of complaints about sex and violence on TV and come at a time when the major commercial networks are trying to hold on to their audience in the face of growing competition from independent stations, video recorders and cable TV--a staple of which is unedited Hollywood movies containing levels of sex, violence and salty language that previously had not been permitted on television.
One of the most publicized critics of what he perceives as excessive sex and violence on TV, Rev. Donald Wildmon of Tupelo, Miss., said Wednesday that he didn't know the specifics of the House and Senate legislation, nor had he been involved in any aspect of the measures.
"But we would support any effort to reduce the violence" and excessive sex on television, said Wildmon, executive director of both the American Family Assn. and Christian Leaders for Responsible Television.
But the legislation was denounced by Arthur Kropp, president of People for the American Way, an organization that has frequently locked horns with Wildmon, and whose founders include producer Norman Lear, who helped scuttle the "family viewing hour" in 1976.
"While everyone agrees there's a problem--that there's excessive violence that needs to be dealt with--this is not the way to do it," Kropp said. "I think that it is, indirectly, government censorship."
That essentially was the argument of Lear and the Writers Guild of America in 1975 when they filed a federal court suit that resulted in the suspension a year later and ultimate demise of the so-called "family viewing hour" guidelines of the National Assn. of Broadcasters.
The guidelines, adopted at a time of protest over shows such as Lear's frank "All in the Family" and a spate of police dramas, said that "entertainment programming inappropriate for viewing by a general family audience should not be broadcast" in the first hour of prime time or the preceding hour (meaning 7 to 9 p.m. on the West Coast). The guidelines were proposed by then CBS-president Arthur Taylor after the Federal Communications Commission asked the networks to suggest how TV violence might be curbed.
The "family viewing hour" trial ended in 1976 with the judge upholding the plaintiffs' allegation that then-Federal Communications Commission chairman Richard Wiley had illegally "jawboned" the networks and the NAB into adopting the guidelines. The ruling ultimately was overturned on procedural grounds, but the policy was never revived.
The National Cable Television Assn. said Wednesday that it doesn't oppose the new House and Senate measures, but declined to elaborate.
The Washington-based National Assn. of Broadcasters, which represents the networks, more than 900 stations and some program producers, took no position on the new measures, although "we still have some First Amendment concerns," said NAB spokesman John Wolfe. "It's a freedom-of-speech kind of thing. It's government intrusion here."
But Christopher J. Dunn, counsel for Sen. Paul Simon (D-Ill.), author of the Senate measure, said no constitutional issues are involved.
"Part of the reason we're so confident that this bill passes constitutional muster is that neither house is suggesting what guidelines there ought to be. That's left up to the industry."
The measures would permit guidelines to be discussed by officials of the NAB, NCTA, the Motion Picture Producers Assn. of America, the networks, their affiliate stations, cable operators, program producers and the Assn. of Independent Television Stations.