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Singing Another Toon On Kid Visions

September 12, 1993|DAVID ZURAWIK | THE BALTIMORE SUN

Don't look for parental advisories or cutbacks in violence on kids' TV shows from Fox this fall.

Margaret Loesch, president of children's programming for Fox, fails to see a need. "Frankly, in network cartoons, I see nothing that needs that kind of advisory," she says.

"I think that some of the heated-up discussion about violence may not be dealing with the real issues," Loesch says, identifying those issues as guns and criminal activity.

Her stance is likely to become the industry's official position, since Fox is far and away the No. 1 network for children in the United States. As Fox goes, so are the rest of the networks expected to go on the issues of cartoon violence and parental warnings. And that means the networks are digging in their heels against any serious reform in children's programming.

In fact, Fox will be bringing considerably more violence to kids' TV.

Two programs specifically mentioned by Loesch were "Spider-Man" (an animated show based on the Marvel Comics superhero) and the "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers" (a live-action, science-fiction series). The highlight reel for "Mighty Morphin" featured wall-to-wall kung-fu kicks, laser blasts and explosions.

"Mighty Morphin" joined Fox's weekday schedule last week, while "Spider Man" is expected next spring.

Loesch defends cartoon violence by saying there's no compelling evidence that it's harmful to children. "I've been in this business 23 years. And it's like this wave of interest (in cartoon violence) has come up," she says.

"In all the years I've been in TV, I've talked to many child psychologists and educators, and there's very little agreement among all these experts about what the impact (of seeing violent acts involving animated characters) is on little children."

In fact, the overwhelming majority of studies--both from mass media scholars and psychologists--do show a causal connection between watching TV violence and acting violently--especially in the case of young children.

The kids' TV reform movement has had some effect on the Fox schedule, though. This fall, Fox will add "Where on Earth Is Carmen Sandiego?"--a cartoon version of the computer game that is also being done as a live-action series on public television.

Loesch says the show was added as a result of the Federal Communication Commission's revised interpretation of the Children's Television Act of 1990, which stipulated that some children's program must be educational.

That revised interpretation largely came about through the research and lobbying of the Center for Media Studies in Washington. Jeff Chester and Kathryn Montgomery, co-directors of the center, discovered and made public the fact that TV stations around the country were skirting the act by listing reruns of "The Jetsons" and "Leave It to Beaver" as educational programs. So Congress called the broadcasters on the carpet.

Loesch also says that Fox had been in discussion with Steven Spielberg in hopes of bringing an animated "Jurassic Park" to kids' TV. However, Spielberg has decided against doing a cartoon version of the violently suspenseful box-office hit with Fox or anyone else.

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