TV NEEDS ITS OWN CONTRACT WITH AMERICA
Date: Fri, 2 Dec 94 15:03:59 PST
Subject: TV NEEDS ITS OWN CONTRACT WITH AMERICA
Forwarded-by: bostic@CS.Berkeley.EDU (Keith Bostic)
Forwarded-by: ShopTalk <ShopTalk@Gremlin.Clark.Net>
TV NEEDS ITS OWN CONTRACT WITH AMERICA
By Howard Rosenberg
The Los Angeles Times
Television is out of touch with the nation and is in big trouble.
But the solution is not necessarily to throw out the bums in
charge. Rather, partisan politics aside, the television industry
should follow the lead of Republicans and draft a "contract with
Here are some sample proposals:
** Balanced Budgets of Newscasts
Newscast budgets (the daily schedules of stories) are usually so
unbalanced, if not flat-out slanted and deficient, that they
present a distorted view of society, both globally and
domestically. This is especially true when it comes to coverage of
most minorities, their appearance in stories being largely limited
to news connected to violence.
The cumulative impact of this coverage is significant, teaching
that mayhem and minorities (code, in this instance, for Latinos and
African Americans) are synonymous. Hence, these minorities are to
be feared and despised by the rest of us, and made scapegoats for
the broader society's problems.
Overwhelming approval of Proposition 187, the California initiative
whose provisions to abort most social services to illegal
immigrants is now in legal limbo, may testify to the scapegoat
As evidence of how the cumulative fear factor works on white
suburbanites, I offer the following personal anecdote concerning a
recent visit to Cleveland.
While walking alone at midday in an upper middle-class
neighborhood, I noticed a man approaching me on the sidewalk from
the opposite direction. Average-looking guy. Average dress. Still,
I felt an instinctive dart of fright (for all I know, he did, too),
which vanished only after we had passed each other without
Why the flash of panic? Only one reason, not a rational one: The
man was African American.
** Anti-Crime Measures
Curtailment of crime news must accompany the balancing of news
It's true that street crime is easier and cheaper to cover than
more important stories that require greater skills and
sophistication on the part of reporters and greater sustained
commitment from their bosses, who set priorities.
Yet there's still no excuse for local stations continuing to lead
newscasts with up to a half-dozen stories on violent street crimes,
giving them weight far beyond their true significance in the
broader context, and creating the false impression that everyone
everywhere is constantly in jeopardy.
No wonder that, despite figures showing a decline in violent crime
in many locales, many Americans continue to regard it as society's
greatest peril, and that candidates who shout the loudest about
being "tough" on crime stand the best chance of being elected.
** Voluntary Prayer in Prime Time
You don't have to be Newt Gingrich, a soldier in the religious
right or even moderately devout to dislike mainstream television's
traditional dismissal of theology as something either to ridicule
or ignore. Only rarely do prime-time series, for example, depict
religious figures as deserving respect-when they're allowed to
surface at all, that is. In fact, you see more hookers, rapists and
serial murderers on TV than clerics.
With religion so prominent in the lives of many Americans, you'd
think that the major networks would find room on their schedules
for an occasional drama series revolving around some churchly
edifice, one that neither celebrates nor denigrates religion, but
examines its strengths and weaknesses through the lives of ordinary
If religion is boring, why is it important to so many people?
** Promo Reform
Nothing is more irritating than prime-time news inserts designed to
tease and entice viewers with incomplete information ("Death Takes
Hollywood Giant. News at 11"). They must end.
Even worse, though, are promos that withhold critical, possibly
life-saving information purely for self-serving reasons.
For example, is the prime-time magazine series "Dateline NBC" in
the news business or the suspense business? The answer comes in the
current issue of TV Guide, where a large ad for Tuesday's program
carries a photo of a house in flames beneath this shrieking
"There's a Family Killer in Your House."
The ad copy describes "an ordinary household product that's caused
countless fires and deaths. The burning question . . . why haven't
you been warned?"
A bigger question: Why isn't "Dateline NBC" warning you now?
A listing for the program on the next page expands on the ad: "Lea
Thompson reports the dangers of a household product that can start
fires due to spontaneous combustion. Included are comments from a
Seattle fire investigator and some Connecticut families."
Not included in the ad or TV listing is the name of this supposedly
lethal household product. That's right, nearly five dozen words
used as a come-on to hook viewers, but not one identifying this
"family killer" that you may have in your house even as you read
If the product is that perilous, "Dateline NBC" should announce its
name immediately in the cause of saving lives, right? Instead, it
has enlisted Product X in the cause of boosting the program's
audience totals during this month's crucial ratings sweeps that
help determine TV advertising rates. The strategy: By omitting
possibly critical information, motivate viewers to tune in Tuesday
for the big disclosure.
Unless they're incinerated in the meantime.
** Term Limits
Really now, hasn't Rush Limbaugh been around long enough?
© 1994 Peter Langston