Taming the tube TV viewing: Legislator's challenge to turn off television sets is a prime-time move.

December 10, 1996

TELEVISION STATIONS actually went off the air at night when Newton Minow, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, declared the medium a "vast wasteland" 35 years ago. Then there were just three networks supplying nearly all the programming, including "Gunsmoke," "Candid Camera" and "The Ed Sullivan Show." Now cable and satellite beam dozens of channels to most American homes.

And yet television remains a wasteland, far more vast than it was in the days of Mr. Minow's famous speech. Like the Internet, today's television viewer has abundant material -- arguably good and bad. And children see a lot of it, watching an average of more than 28 hours of TV per week.

State Sen. Martin G. Madden has a solution for this excessive TV viewing by children: Turn off the box, at least for 10 days. Gimmicky, yes. As appealing as Brussel sprouts to most children, definitely. But Mr. Madden responds to the phenomenon that children spend 50 percent more time in front of the television than they spend in school each year. Numerous studies report the harmful effects of too much TV.

Mr. Madden seeks to counter those effects with his "TV-free 10 Day Challenge" to children in his District 13, in Howard and Prince George's counties. He hopes students accepting his challenge will "become more aware of the role TV now plays in their lives and to teach themselves that there are constructive, creative, fulfilling alternatives," he says.

Students completing the challenge will receive citations from the senator, congratulating their abstention from cartoons, sitcoms and MTV for this brief period.

Concern about excessive television viewing is not new. Advocates have complained about televised violence since the 1950s and a group called Action for Children's Television has fought for three decades to improve the quality of programming. Recently, Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. urged parents to monitor their children's viewing patterns.

The effort by Mr. Madden is another attempt to chip away at television's dominance at home. Yes, most children completing the challenge may return to their old viewing habits, but some may discover that there are a few programs they can live without.

Pub Date: 12/10/96

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