Cure for violence lies beyond the networks, CBS chief Stringer says

TURNED ON IN LA. -- Spring Preview

January 14, 1994|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Television Critic

Don't look for less violence on CBS in coming months.

The networks have done enough to clean up violence. And politicians, like Sen. Paul Simon, D-Ill., should leave them alone and focus on the real causes of violence in society.

That was the message here yesterday from CBS President Howard Stringer, who last week met with Senator Simon on the issue of TV violence. The meeting with Simon was also attended by top executives from ABC and NBC.

"In private meetings with Senator Simon, I have said that the purpose of the political hearings [last year in Washington] was to get less violence on the air. That we have achieved. In that sense, declare it a victory," Stringer said.

"I am not interested in creating political victories for people all over Washington," he added. "The issue is are we doing better? The answer is yes. All right, let's leave it that for the moment and pursue the real causes of violence in society."

Stringer said the discussion of violence in society needs to be "more sophisticated" than what he characterized as the headline-grabbing talk of senators and congressmen at public hearings.

He says the networks were blamed because it was the easy thing to do.

"Whatever role we play in violence, we have done our part [to reduce violence on TV]," Stringer said. "Now, go out and worry about syndicators for a while, the cable industry for a while -- all the people that are ducking under general blanket indictment of network television, which in Washington passes for all television."

To make his point about larger societal causes, Stringer told an anecdote that he says happened following his televised appearances at one of Senator Simon's hearings last fall.

"I just got off the panel, and [columnist] Jimmy Breslin called me up and said, 'Howard, I just got back from east New York. It's a tough part of New York. The kids there are on drugs, they dropped out of school, they have no jobs, they're in gangs, they're killing each other, they all have guns. Trust me, Howard, they're not watching your network.'

"And I tried to say that to Senator Simon the other day. It's wonderful to make us a scapegoat, but think about the society. The most rented video out there is "Scarface." . . . I don't think 'Murder, She Wrote' is stimulating violence."

On other battle fronts, Stringer said he's considering several options to fill the hole in his Sunday afternoon schedule now that Fox will carry National Football League games starting next fall.

"I've had more suggested to me than you would care to cope with," he said.

"Everything from Martha Stewart to interactive television to bizarre sports -- which we won't be doing -- to family movies to multiplex programming."

He also predicted that two of the last major-market CBS affiliates that are currently not carrying the David Letterman show will "be on board by spring."

When asked if Baltimore's WBAL (Channel 11) was one those affiliates, Stringer said, "I really can't comment. I wouldn't want to spook anything."

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