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More TV-14 Ratings Seen After Outcry

Television: Peoria parents' demands for more stringent ratings will get results, executives predict.

May 21, 1997|JANE HALL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PEORIA, Ill. — Network executives said that they expect some TV shows will be re-rated from TV-PG to TV-14 as a result of Monday night's stormy session with parents here over the content of programming and the industry's ratings guidelines.

"There's no question that more shows need to be rated TV-14," Rosalyn Weinman, NBC's senior vice president for broadcast standards and content policy, said in an interview Tuesday. "That was the message of the parents of Peoria about the ratings system, and I think there will be and should be re-rating of some shows."

"The No. 1 thing I hear from parents is that there should be more TV-14s," said Martin Franks, senior vice president at CBS. "I believe the industry is going to start moving forward on that."

Weinman declined to discuss shows other than those on her own network, where, for example, she said "Homicide: Life on the Street" has proved to be a TV-14 and "Friends" has been rated TV-14 several times since the code was implemented Jan. 1.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday May 22, 1997 Home Edition Calendar Part F Page 67 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 28 words Type of Material: Correction
Misidentification--U.S. Sen. Kent Conrad was misidentified in a story in Wednesday's Calendar section about a town hall meeting concerning the TV ratings system. He is a Democrat from North Dakota.

But executives involved in the discussions among the networks said that they expect Fox will be asked to consistently label shows such as "New York Undercover" TV-14, which means a program may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14. TV-PG calls for parental guidance with regard to young children.

"There have been some weeks when Fox has given 'The X-Files' a PG," one industry executive said. " 'New York Undercover' has received a PG some weeks when it should clearly be a TV-14. We've got to have consistency in the ratings among the networks. That's where we're getting killed by our critics."

A spokesman for Fox, which was announcing its fall schedule Tuesday, could not be reached for comment.

The broadcast networks--under fire from Congress and children's advocates--have been loath to criticize each other's efforts in rating programs or to offer to make any changes in their voluntary ratings guidelines.

"This is the debate we ought to be having--how can we best apply the guidelines that we have?" one source said. "But it's a little hard to do that when you're under the threat of legislation."

Indeed, in a previously unreported meeting on Capitol Hill 10 days ago, Tony Podesta, a representative for the networks, asked Sen. Kent Conrad (R-S.D.) and Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), two prominent critics of the industry guidelines, what their response would be if, as some critics have demanded, the networks add V, S and L symbols (for violence, sex and language) to their existing guidelines. The senators' response was that such a move would not be good enough. "They need to deal with the level of violence in each show," Conrad told The Times.

The industry has been slow to begin reviewing complaints about the ratings through its oversight monitoring board. The board had its first organizational meeting only last Friday. Once it begins dealing with actual complaints, the board presumably can be a vehicle for creating more consistency in the ratings.

Despite the angry tone of the congressional subcommittee hearing in Peoria Monday, network executives said they did not feel it was a repudiation of the industry's system. "People were not calling for a system of S, V and L," Weinman said. "They were asking us to do a better job of applying our guidelines."

"In this cultural debate about ratings, a lot of what people are talking about is not ratings but the content of TV programs," CBS' Franks said. "Many of the people in Peoria were saying they don't like what's on TV. I understand their concerns. But we are broadcasters, and we put some shows on the air that are clearly for adult audiences. It's hard to imagine how 'Seinfeld' could be such a hit if there was so much objection to it among audiences all around the country."

Interestingly, the "Seinfeld" episode about orgasms that was the flash point for discussion in Peoria appears to have been a rerun that was rated PG by its syndicator and aired there this week. That's one of the discrepancies Weinman said she would like to see eliminated.

"If that episode--or the one about masturbation--aired on NBC today, I'd give it a TV-14," Weinman said.

Jack Valenti, who helped devise the TV ratings system and heads the oversight committee, was at the Peoria session and said he found it helpful.

"There's no question that some of these shows have been mis-rated," he said, but he added that no ratings system will work without parents exercising some judgment about what their children watch.

Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.), chairman of the House commerce subcommittee on telecommunications, trade and consumer protection, who organized the hearing at Bradley University, said he thought it had been useful for the television representatives to hear from their viewers.

"Now they know what it feels like when you have to face your constituents in a public hearing," he observed. "The anger last night was well in excess of the issue of TV ratings. But I think there's a lot of good that can come out of this forum. I hope this encourages the networks to listen to viewers and make sure that their ratings are serving the public."

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