ABC chief decries violence but supports 'NYPD Blue' TURNED ON IN L.A -- Fall Preview

July 27, 1993|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Television Critic

LOS ANGELES -- ABC Entertainment President Ted Harbert says he believes watching TV violence can desensitize viewers. As a result, there will be less violence on ABC this fall.

"I am not a fan of violence on television," Harbert said yesterday.

"I think that watching it on TV can make you kind of numb to it. . . . So, yes, there will be less violence on ABC this fall."

But, despite that promise, Harbert stood behind Steven Bochco's "NYPD Blue" and the heavy violence it contains.

Harbert said he supported Bochco's use of violence as "an artistic choice to try and paint with a lot of different colors."

Viewers will see the biggest reduction in violence on ABC this fall in made-for-TV movies, Harbert said.

He singled out "Murder in the Heartland," a docudrama about a serial killer in Nebraska that aired last May and drew criticism for its violence. Clips from the film were played repeatedly during congressional hearings in May and June on the issue.

"If that movie came to me tomorrow, I don't think I'd air it," Harbert said.

"I can tell you . . . that there are less violent movies in the '93-'94 season than there were for '92-'93.

"Will next May be as violent as this May sweeps were? No, it won't be as violent."

Harbert said that several scripts, which the network had been considering for production, have been dropped in recent months, because they contained too much violence and did not offer any useful insights or context for the violence.

Harbert denied that he was trying to have it both ways -- saying he was against violence on one hand, while supporting it in "NYPD Blue," a show getting much advance publicity because of the controversy surrounding it.

He said that he did not believe the level of violence in the pilot was excessive and that he thinks most of ABC's affiliates will carry the show when it premieres Sept. 21.

"I predict that it will be a very small number of affiliates that do not clear the show," he said.

As for language in the pilot, he said, "There were a few words that I flinched at a bit. But that's my personal opinion."

In terms of sexual content, he said the 15-second edit of a sex scene that Bochco has announced satisfies the network.

The show will carry the following advisory when it airs, Harbert said:

"This police drama contains adult language and scenes with partial nudity. Viewer discretion is advised."

Each episode of "NYPD Blue" will be judged on an individual basis and the language of the warning will change with the

specifics of each case, according to Harbert.

"One could say violence, and another language," Harbert said. "It will be on a case by case basis."

Other ABC series that are candidates for warnings are the new Daniel J. Travanti cop show, "Missing Persons," and "The Commish," according to Harbert.

In comparing shows from last season, Harbert said "Wild Palms," the futuristic miniseries that aired in May, would carry a violence warning if it were airing this fall.

" 'Wild Palms' is a show where you might have tuned in not expecting to see violence," he said.

"In fact," he added, "that's one of the reasons we kept 'murder' in the title of 'Murder in the Heartland.' There was discussion of another title, but I wanted 'murder' in there to let people know what they were going to see."

In other matters, Harbert said he had a meeting scheduled this month with Roseanne and Tom Arnold and that he hoped to negotiate a deal with them that would keep "Roseanne" on ABC "for many years to come."

Their contract with ABC expires after this season, and Roseanne has said she will take the show to another network because ABC refused to renew her husband's series, "The Jackie Arnold Show."

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