PALO ALTO, CALIF. HC — PALO ALTO, Calif. -- Peggy Charren contends Saturday-morning network television has gotten so bad that parents shouldn't let their kids watch it.
In more than 20 years of trying to get better shows for children on TV, she's never told parents to do anything like that.
"The new season is so horrible," insists the head of Action for Children's Television (ACT), "I think that's the only thing they can do.
"In the past, I've suggested that parents take a look at what's on, themselves, and then decide what's OK for their kids. Everything's so ghastly now, it's not worth the trouble.
"I've devoted 23 years of my life to educating the broadcast industry that children are entitled to a little delight and discovery on television, and look what they do. I feel like I have wasted my professional life."
In an interview during a recent visit to the Stanford centennial celebration, she said the Saturday-morning shows are particularly bad on NBC.
"It's not that they're violent; it's not that they are sexy," she says. "It's just that they're so nauseating. In the old days NBC would have never let them on the air. They are so amateurish; the cuts are so bad; all of them are so badly put together, they would have never made the network."
Her solution to the Saturday-morning dilemma? Videotape.
"Make tapes of shows on public televi
sion," she says. "Rent them; buy them if you can afford it; exchange them with other families."
Charren, 63, should know about bad TV. The children whose choices on television she first worried about are now grown and many have kids of their own.
From her first meeting with like-minded mothers in her home, Charren's group has grown to more than 100,000 contributing members, with the support of 150 national organizations such as the PTA.
Charren is quick to explain that its objective is not censorship.
"I am not the Moral Majority," she says firmly, with obvious delight. "Most people who are dealing with the media and children want to burn the books, get rid of the television, get rid of textbooks. . . . I think censorship is worse than anything on television. I'm a card-carrying member of the ACLU."
"I really get a big bang out of stuff when it's wonderful," she concludes, "so I get doubly depressed when I look at something that's terrible, because it's such a waste of an opportunity to do something terrific.
"It's not that it's going to make children's hair fall out or turn them into criminals. Poverty turns you into a criminal, not television.
"It's OK for kids to watch television," she says, "but you have to teach them to tell the difference between quality and junk, just like you teach them the difference between Shakespeare and a comic book."