CBS president acknowledges TV's violence is harmful TURNED ON IN L.A.: Fall Preview

July 19, 1993|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Television Critic

LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles

In the first public acknowledgement ever by a network executive of cause and effect, CBS President Jeff Sagansky admits watching TV violence is harmful to viewers.

"I don't know if it causes someone to be violent," Sagansky says. "But I think, in the end, if you're exposed to enough of it, it causes someone to be insensitive to [violence]."

As a result of continued calls for reform on violence, Sagansky says CBS viewers will see changes this fall that go beyond the violence advisories the networks agreed to last month.

Regular actions series -- like Chuck Norris' "Walker, Texas Ranger," which features martial arts -- are being retooled this summer to eliminate much of the violence.

And the lineup of made-for-TV movies is being revamped to include fewer true-crime dramas, which are often heavy on violence. Network movie schedules this past season were wall-to-wall true-crime dramas, like the trio of films about Amy Fisher.

"This whole debate over values and TV is going to have an effect on what you see on TV this fall, certainly on the networks anyway," Sagansky says.

"Society is worried about this," he says. "They don't like the level of violence they've been seeing at home with their families. And we are going to do something about it." Speaking specifically about "Walker," which will be paired on Saturday nights with "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman," a family show, Sagansky says, "There were some very rough scenes in the four episodes last year.

"As for changes . . . the way the scenes are [photographed] and the degree of gratuitous violence is going to be way down this fall . . . But, no, we are not going to totally take out the martial arts."

Sagansky is also the first network executive to admit the networks have, in the past, insisted that producers make shows more and more violent.

"If you had a cop show, you were expected to put a certain amount of action in these things," Sagansky says.

"I've never ever heard a network executive say, 'Jeez, this has got to be a lot more violent.' But I have heard network executives say on numerous occasions, 'Gee, we need something in here to pep up the show.' "

The savvy producer understood that "pep" meant violence.

Sagansky says that, too, will change this year.

"If the scene is gratuitous and it doesn't make either the story or the character arc go forward -- if it is purely just to have a car chase or a fight -- then we are going to encourage them not to do it this year."

One of the biggest overall changes has already taken place without much notice, Sagansky says, pointing out that the new fall lineups are "heavily skewed toward comedy and news [magazine] programming." He says that's because there is virtually no violence in sitcoms, and viewers generally do not object to violence shown within the context of news programs.

Sagansky did go out of his way to take a shot at NBC in response to recent statements from network executives that they would sue CBS and David Letterman if Letterman used bits -- like Dave's Top 10 lists -- which they consider NBC property. NBC's argument is that they have proprietary rights in those concepts, because of their investment in Letterman over the years.

"We have invested $1 billion in baseball over the last four years, which NBC is going to get now," Sagansky said, referring to a disastrously expensive contract that cost CBS millions. "And we feel that we have a proprietary right to the nine-inning baseball game. And, so, we just are going to caution them. We don't mind about eight innings or a sixth-inning stretch, but nine innings is something we're going to take action on." On a more serious note, Sagansky declined to comment on negotiations to bring Garry Shandling to CBS to do a late-night show following Letterman's.

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