TV's Restraint - Will It Last?

Whither Buffy? The season finale of the TV teen drama, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," was postponed on Tuesday in the name of preserving the sanctity of high school graduation - the event where much of the finale's violent fantasy action takes place.

The next day this was being hailed as one sign of television's "new restraint" in the post-Littleton era. Discussions are happening all over Hollywood, it seems, prompting changes like a proposed decrease in the mayhem on Jerry Springer's talk show and the shelving of a new mafia series CBS had slated for the fall.

But before parents turn off their V-chips and start cheering, consider for a moment Diana, Princess of Wales.

The British tabloids eased off for a time after Diana's death nearly two years ago. New rules of conduct helped her sons win amnesty from obsessive press coverage, giving royals a rare taste of privacy.

On Wednesday, however, while we were celebrating restraint on this side of the Atlantic, a British tabloid ran a partially topless photo of Sophie Rhys-Jones, the wife-to-be of the Queen's youngest son, Edward. The decade-old photo, taken during a prank by a friend, appeared a month before the wedding and outraged Prime Minister Tony Blair, among many others. The tabloid later apologized, but whither reform?

Americans should give Hollywood credit for its immediate response to the high-school shootings. But long-term reform is needed. Nothing less can dispel suspicions that today's cancellations are simply aimed at tomorrow's publicity. Commercial motives have to be tempered by conscience and responsibility.

Support for voluntary programming adjustments like those made this week can help sensitize the entertainment industry -and viewers -to the need to quell gratuitous violence. Two years from now we shouldn't have to ask, whither sincerity?

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