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Entertainment Programming for the American Broadcasting Company

Essay by   •  November 27, 2010  •  Research Paper  •  6,320 Words (26 Pages)  •  1,718 Views

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Ð' Ð' Ð' Ð' DURING THIRTY YEARS OF TUMULtuous social and political change, I was chief censor of entertainment programming for the American Broadcasting Company. From 1960 to 1990, as one of three independent, competitive gatekeepers, my decisions shaped the texture and taste of television programs that eventually reached 90 million homes. In this retrospective of the battles, occasionally waged frame by frame, over program content, I trace the evolving, sometimes accelerating changes in our national life as reflected on the television screen.

Ð' Ð' Ð' Ð' What was once sexually daring is now prosaic, and yesterday's blood and gore is now tame, but even in today's freewheeling media environment, familiar issues, with which I once grappled, remain in play: Does violence on the screen, large or small, breed real-life violence? Should children be protected from the influence of the media? And if so, how? Which demands from special-interest groups are valid? What is the role of the censor in a free society?

Ð' Ð' Ð' Ð' The story begins in the late 1950s when scandals erupted over quiz shows and payola. When the public learned that those sweating contestants on such television game shows as Twenty-One and The $64,000 Challenge had received the answers in advance, an uproar ensued. The other deception primarily involved disc jockeys who accepted payment to play records instead of selections based on sales records or merit.

Ð' Ð' Ð' Ð' In the unhappy glare of public and government criticism, each of the networks, ABC, CBS, and NBC, took direct control over entertainment programming and expanded their departments of standards and practices. From that point on, every script, every program, live, film, or tape, was to be scrutinized by an editor for taste, accuracy, violent portrayals, and sexual overtones. This far-reaching review did not apply to news, documentaries, or sports, where the traditional rules of journalism governed. Eventually, that strange mixture of fact and fiction, the docudrama, would create a new programming category, which required the adoption of some of the news department's practices and guidelines.

Ð' Ð' Ð' Ð' The network's censorship of entertainment programming began in one of the most tumultuous decades of social change in American history. Political debates took to the streets, and the pattern of family life began to shift in ways that continue to reverberate. Innovation, experimentation and exploration were the buzzwords in television programming as the adolescent medium grew up along with the nation. Television itself became the lightning rod for many controversies about what was happening in society.

Ð' Ð' Ð' Ð' Was television a "vast wasteland" corrupting the values of the young? How did television affect children's behavior, their attitudes, their reading scores, their perception of the world around them? The underlying question--what was the medium doing to us?--is asked about any medium, but with television and its intimate reach into the home, it took on a new urgency.

Ð' Ð' Ð' Ð' From my front-row view of these years of debate over violence, I've concluded that as long as our society produces crime, violence and antisocial behavior, the news or our dramas will contain depictions of violence. Storytelling itself has always relied on conflict, mystery, and horror.

Ð' Ð' Ð' Ð' Violence is more pervasive and invasive in our entertainment than ever, and only occasionally does reality shock us into questioning the origins of real-life violence. To scapegoat the messenger for the ills of society--or for creative efforts to shock, suspend, frighten, enlighten and entertain the audience--will not diminish the social factors that foster violence, but that said, I believe the gatekeeper function remains necessary in television programming.

Ð' Ð' Ð' Ð' In looking at the literature over that long expanse of time and change, my conclusion, based primarily on statistical correlations, is that "excessive" violence on television influences aggressive behavior in certain children under certain circumstances.

Ð' Ð' Ð' Ð' Television, because of its unique place in the nation's living rooms, requires managers, programmers, producers and editors to exercise a standard of reasonableness in programming content. A perfunctory Rating System is not sufficient nor is the installation of a V-Chip.

Ð' Ð' Ð' Ð' The amount and frequency of violent material is within the control of the broadcaster or cable operator. The quality and depth of character portrayal and plot delineation is within the control of the creator and producer. The expression, graphically or verbally, is within the purview of the reviewer. What is excessive or gratuitous changes with the storytelling. Context, consequences, humor, direction, and performance, all serve to determine how much is too much or how little is illusory.

Ð' Ð' Ð' Ð' Warnings, ratings, disclosures are devices to prepare an audience, but the broadcaster/cablecaster must accept his/her role in society as a responsible purveyor of programming that comes into the home. The parents must also exercise their responsibility and judgment about the types of violent programming acceptable for a child's eyes. The more the media universe expands the more complicated the task becomes, but it is no less urgent an issue now than it was four decades ago.

SEX

Ð' Ð' Ð' Ð' The history of sexuality in television programming and the role of the censor in the expansion of acceptable television fare shows how quickly the daring and dangerous taboos disappear. The most important fact, however, is that the three major broadcast networks no longer dominate entertainment programming. Cable stations, more networks, and deregulation all contributed to the ever-expanding, unrestrained media atmosphere in the talk and action of sexuality.

THE ROLE OF THE CENSOR

Ð' Ð' Ð' Ð' Until the recent technological advances, television has been differentiated from print media by the scarcity principle--not enough space or time for all the people who want to be heard. The Supreme Court recognized this reality in its decision in the Red Lion case. In considering FCC action in connection with the application of the Fairness Doctrine, which is now defunct, it applied the "rational basis" criteria to broadcasting issues balancing public interest and free speech considerations.

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