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CRITIC'S CORNER

December 24, 1989|Elise T. Chisolm | The Baltimore Evening Sun

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, we've confirmed something: Americans love violence in their TV coverage.

Does this come as a shock? It shouldn't. The television media know that peaceful revolutions don't sell nearly as well as the violent ones. The network moguls are bemoaning the fact that the upheavals in Europe and the Communist bloc have not drawn enough viewers.

Don't they know "tele-violence" always garners more of an audience?

You don't have to look any farther than the typical Sunday TV lineup, where there is violence galore on made-for-TV movies and based-on-fact documentaries. And how about "Monday Night Football" for great live episodes of brutal force and injury? Not to mention all the other nights of the week, when more than a few fictional cops and robbers fight to the deaths for high ratings.

Let's face it, we are voyeurs of the worst kind.

What brings our national penchant for violence to my mind is a recent column by the Washington Post's Tom Shales. Headline: "The Blockbuster No One Watched--Upheaval in Europe Leaves Viewers Cold."

Shales ruminated that American viewers did not tune in to see, as he described it, the "epochal, earth-shaking, monumental" sequence of events surrounding the fall of the Berlin Wall--people hugging, crying, marching to freedom and the death knell of communism in Eastern Europe.

All the network ratings went down during the East German coverage because American viewers just weren't interested. Apparently, network news heads are still scratching their heads over the greatest story ever told since World War II getting lousy ratings. The ratings did gain, however, for the more violent stories from China's Tiananmen Square, the San Francisco Bay Area earthquake and the South Carolina hurricane.

Well, I'm not puzzled. We love tele-violence: Good live stuff where heads are crushed, houses blow over and people shoot it out.

Don't those corporate talking heads know we are immune to peaceful uprisings and quiet change of commands? Apparently some do. Shales quotes Reuven Frank, president of NBC News: "It may prove that Geraldo Rivera is right and the rest of us are wrong."

In other words, when a talk-show host badgers people, talks with perverts and deviates, and chairs are thrown--that's what people really want to see.

Look at the recent historic meeting between Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev and Pope John Paul II. Many viewers yawned.

If the scene on the B. Maxim Gorky--the ship where the recent summit of the two super-powers occurred--would have been just a little more violent, networks would have had better ratings.

If the sea had been a bit rougher when President Bush took the launch to the Soviet cruise ship for the summit meeting, if a man had been blown overboard or the president had to swim the last few yards--wow, would that have raised ratings!

So, to the network heads who want soaring ratings and more viewers I say: Be patient. Something will come along. A volcano will erupt, a tornado will blow in, a bloody coup will be launched. It's just a matter of time.

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