TV's Vanishing Standards

Every fall season of new prime-time TV shows brings some surprises. This year may be no exception.

But what's less and less surprising each year are more and more shows that depict a greater degree of sex, violence, and profanity.

Yes, we can all turn off our TVs and watch a video, cruise the Web, or read a book. But network TV still has much to offer, and it's still a public medium. So it's a pity when producers lower standards to reverse a drop in ratings. We sympathize with the networks' commercial plight but not with their noncreative solutions.

Some producers even take pride in "pushing the envelope" on what they can get away with. They claim that raunchy shows merely reflect the real world and appeal to a young audience that advertisers want.

And besides, they argue, they're forced to do it by competition from cable TV, especially some music videos on MTV and R-rated movies on HBO and Showtime.

But where does the envelope-pushing stop? How much sex, violence, and profanity is too much?

One answer may come from big TV advertisers like Procter & Gamble Co., General Motors, IBM, and Sears.

Last week, a group of them announced they would encourage responsible entertainment during prime time. As one step, they will pay to have writers develop wholesome scripts for consideration by the WB network. Their motives may be simply to avoid consumer boycotts. But they say they want to stop the trend toward "edgy content" on television.

Such laudable actions reflect an attitude that standards on prime-time TV should not be determined by what a niche market will bear but by the kind of society we want to promote through TV entertainment.

Perhaps another way to halt the trend is to ask producers what is their ultimate standard - or "envelope" - for family-time TV fare. Or do they just push against someone else's?

Would they want to watch shows that break their own standard - again and again?

Probably not.

So why should the rest of us?

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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