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Producers Defend Violence as 'Honest' : Television: Despite Monday's summit and threats to regulate the amount of mayhem on the airwaves, many crime- and action-oriented series executives have no plans to alter their shows.

July 31, 1993|GREG BRAXTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The highly anticipated summit on television violence between Washington legislators and TV industry honchos in Beverly Hills is only two days away, but producers of police shows and action series still have murder and mayhem on the brain.

Despite Hollywood's anxiety surrounding the Monday hearing amid threats from lawmakers about possible measures to force the industry to lessen the amount of violence, viewers of all ages may be watching these incidents this fall:

* A U.S. Marshal is cut down by a gang of outlaws making a break from a hijacked train in the pilot of Fox's "The Adventures of Brisco County Jr." In the same episode, four gunmen accidentally shoot each other fatally in what is intended to be a comic moment.

* A police homicide detective is shot and critically wounded during an interrupted tryst with a prostitute on ABC's "NYPD Blue."

In addition, murders and drug busts are continuing regularly on CBS' "In the Heat of the Night." ABC's "The Commish" is not going to slow down in his war against crime, and Jessica Fletcher is still finding plenty of murders to solve in CBS' "Murder, She Wrote."

The four broadcast networks and the major cable channels are voluntarily instituting parental advisory warnings of violence, yet as it stands now, none of the shows above is expected to be labeled as violent.

Network officials have already contended that, with a very few exceptions, none of their new or continuing series is violent enough to warrant the label, although an occasional TV movie may carry the warning.

In addition, several executives associated with crime- and action-oriented shows say they have no plans to alter their shows to cut down on the depiction of violence.

Most claim that there isn't anything to cut down on--that the violence shown on their shows is neither gratuitous nor explicit, and that the tragic consequences of a violent act are always highlighted.

"This isn't a situation where we feel we've done anything wrong and we've been caught and we're not going to do it again," said Joe Gannon, a producer on "In the Heat of the Night." Gannon added that no guidelines have been established on what is "acceptable violence" and what isn't.

Other producers say it is impossible to do a show in a particular genre, such as a Western or a gangster drama, without showing violence.

Christopher Crowe, executive producer of the syndicated "The Untouchables," which has been attacked by some industry critics as one of the most violent programs on television, said, "If I'm forced to make changes, I will. One has to stay alive, after all."

But, he added, "There are certain milieus, which by their very nature, are violent. If you are to depict those events, then you have to depict violence. If you tell that kind of story without violence, then you're not being honest, and you're telling a tale that is being dictated by external pressures."

Such apparent reluctance by producers underscores concerns by critics of TV violence that the industry is not taking the controversy seriously enough to make significant changes in the depiction of violence.

"I'm dismayed and surprised that they don't seem to realize how strongly a lot of legislators feel about this," said Carole Lieberman, chairperson of the National Coalition on Television Violence.

Even though a just-released study by the University of Pennsylvania concluded that television violence on the three networks has decreased in the last three years, Lieberman insisted that the number of violent acts shown was still too high, and that the study did not include reality shows.

Producers said they would be monitoring the Monday hearing on violence with interest. Some said they sympathize with the concern over television violence, which lawmakers and anti-violence advocates contend is directly related to violence in society.

The daylong session at the Beverly Hilton Hotel is designed to be Hollywood's last chance to demonstrate to Washington that it is committed to cutting down on the amount of violence on television. The hearing closely coincides with the December deadline set by Sen. Paul Simon (D-Ill.) on his challenge three years ago for the industry to voluntarily reduce violence or else the government would step in to take restrictive steps.

Despite the furor, producers said they did not expect the hearing or the controversy to dramatically affect their shows.

"I have no intention to alter the elements in regard to the current cry and hue over violence," said William Finkelstein, executive producer of NBC's "L.A. Law.," which airs at 10 p.m. on Thursday.

" 'L.A. Law' on the rare occasion has incorporated violence because a story line or scene required it," he said. "When the drama of a scene requires it, I will feel the same freedom I felt in the past to use it. 'L.A. Law' is an adult show and its audience should not be made up of children."

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