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Number of Violent Scenes on TV Drops by Half : Television: But a study of programs before 1990 reports two-thirds of prime-time drama are still involved in violence.

July 29, 1993|GREG MILLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — The frequency of violent scenes on television is now about half of what it was before 1990, a study released Wednesday reported.

"We hope that it is a hint of things to come," said Sen. Paul Simon (D-Ill.), who has led Washington efforts to reduce violence on television.

The number of violent scenes declined from more than six per hour in 1988-89 to fewer than three in 1992-93, the University of Pennsylvania report said. But two-thirds of prime-time fictional dramas and nearly half of their casts are still involved in violence.

Saturday morning shows for children, historically more violent than adult programming, showed a slower, more uneven decline, the report said. More than nine in 10 children's programs and eight in 10 characters are still involved in violence, the study said, but the number of violent scenes per hour has slipped from a record 32 in 1990 to 18 in 1992-93.

The findings follow a first-of-its-kind agreement among ABC, NBC and CBS to begin putting parental advisories on violent shows this fall. Network executives fashioned the agreement in June when it appeared Congress was losing patience with unchecked violent programming.

On Monday in Los Angeles, key members of the broadcast and cable industries will gather for an unprecedented television violence summit organized by the National Council for Families and Television.

At a press conference with Simon on Wednesday, professor George Gerbner, who headed the University of Pennsylvania research team, said that the Television Violence Act passed by Congress in 1990 deserved credit for the reduction in violent content. The act, sponsored by Simon, shielded the networks from antitrust laws so that they could work together to reduce television violence.

But the timing of the decline in television violence and the introduction of the networks' parental guidance agreement--both coming shortly before the Television Violence Act is set to expire in December--has made some skeptical of the networks' commitment to diminishing violence on television.

Simon acknowledged that the networks might simply be trying to avert government intervention, but said he was concerned with results, not motives.

"When a colleague in the Senate votes for my amendment, I don't ask him why," Simon said.

Gerbner, who has tracked television violence since 1967, stressed that the recent decline in violence was moderate and expressed particular concern with violent programming aimed at young viewers.

"Kids today are born into it, they are accustomed to it, and to some extent they get addicted to it," Gerbner said.

Violence depicted in cartoons and comedies aimed at younger viewers is even more insidious than that shown in dramatic programming, Gerbner said.

"Happy violence" appears swift, cool, painless, effective and always leading to a happy ending, he said. Absent from such programs are depictions of the pain and suffering that accompany violence in real life.

The researchers defined violence as "overt physical action that hurts or kills, or threatens to do so." The study focused on prime-time fictional shows and Saturday morning children's shows. News programs and the new breed of reality-based police and rescue shows were not included.

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