3 networks to show less TV violence ABC, CBS, NBC agree to new curbs

December 12, 1992|By Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- The three major television networks, after years of criticism that they glamorize violence, appear to be ready to clean up their act.

In an unusual joint letter sent by ABC, NBC and CBS to Sen. Paul Simon, D-Ill., who has pushed hard for legislation to curb television violence, the three networks have agreed to issue a uniform set of guidelines for depiction of violence on the air.

Although those guidelines are not expected to be notably different from the standards already in place at each network, the agreement is significant because it pressures others in the television industry, including cable TV and the burgeoning syndication market, to take similar steps.

In recent years, network officials said, the three major broadcasters have moved away from the kind of high-violence programs once symbolized by such hits as "The A Team" and "Hill Street Blues."

Instead, cable television and syndicators, which have looser standards than the networks, frequently show programs that are more violent in nature.

So far, other segments of the TV industry have not signaled their intention.

The letter nonetheless represents a victory for Mr. Simon. "You will seea difference in the 1993 programming" next fall, Mr. Simon predicted at a press conference yesterday.

In the letter, the three networks said they will "limit the depiction of violence" in entertainment programs.

Although Mr. Simon hailed the agreement as "a first big step," he XTC conceded that it "lacked teeth" because they could not be enforced by law and are subject to loose interpretation.

Network producers, responding to the agreement, said the guidelines would have little or no effect on their programming.

"I don't see why we'd really have a problem with any of that," said Walon Green, co-executive producer of NBC's "Law and Order."

Mr. Green said other programs currently running on TV would not be affected either because they "have backed away from showing people being beaten up at random and woman being abused just for the affect." He said only shows in the 1970s, such as "Starsky and Hutch", were excessively violent.

Still, the networks because of their high visibility and longtime association with the issue, believe that they have to lead the way if the television industry is to sign onto some industrywide guidelines curbing violence on TV.

"It is not insignificant that the three networks, who cannot agree on the color of the sky, have gotten together on this one issue," said a senior network executive who asked not to be identified.

Mr. Simon, who authored an antitrust exemption that allows TV broadcasters to collaborate on industrywide standards on violence, said the agreement outlined several broad areas where the networks can reduce the harmful effects of TV on audiences.

The guidelines include banning repeated depictions of violence for itsown sake, prohibiting the glamorization of violence, banishing excessive gore or suffering, and barring violence that is used simply to shock or stimulate the audience.

Each network previously had its own set of guidelines, and the new voluntary standards represent their consolidation -- with the overall effect of slightly stricter rules for all.

Mr. Simon's Television Violence Act of 1990 exempted the television industry from antitrust limits for three years to allow self-regulation on TV violence.

The law, which called for common standards among all broadcasters, includes the cable industry.

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