Nets Wary as Watchdog Feds Bark About TV Violence

LOS ANGELES – It took sex and violence to perk up the networks’ annual fall development presentations for advertisers here last week. The subject, always a sore point between programmers and their sponsors, reared its head at three out of the four pre-season dog and pony shows this year.
What prompted that in part is a movement astir in the U.S. Senate to get the networks to develop industrywide standards on violence before the government does it for them. While the networks consider the potential intervention a serious threat to their creative freedom, complaints from advertisers about sex and violence have actually resulted in minimal declines in ad revenue, media buyers said.
The networks are clearly concerned about the potential of regulation and about advertiser reaction.
Warren Littlefield, president of No. 3-ranked NBC, said pointedly that one of the ways the network hopes to rebuild its ratings is through action/adventure drama, but ‘that doesn’t mean violence.’ And at No. 2-ranked ABC’s presentation, producer Steven Bochco and ABC president Ted Harbert urged advertisers to disregard what they’d heard about his upcoming NYPD Blue (there will be semi-nudity) until they’ve seen it.
The jaded media buying crowd in attendance seemed less responsive than usual to the pilot ideas presented, but the group actually hissed after CBS executive vp Peter Tortorici presented some fairly violent snippets from the pilot, Walker, Texas Ranger, starring martial arts pro Chuck Norris.
Even in the face of reactions like that, coupled with special interest group boycotts and show sponsor pullouts, the television networks have only lost advertising revenues in the low double-digit millions as a result, buyers said.
‘There are a number of clients that have stringent guidelines on gratuitous sex and violence,’ said Western International Media network chief Bill Croasdale. ‘Many advertisers will stay away from new programs for the first three to six weeks into the new season just to make sure that there is not adverse viewer reaction in terms of too much sex or violence. On the other extreme, a number of advertisers just buy eyeballs and are not concerned about the threat of boycotts. And there will be the one or two who try to buy things cheap after clients pull out.’
Croasdale, along with several other media buyers, sided with the television networks in saying that the 10 p.m. hour should be reserved for adult viewing.
Copyright Adweek L.P. (1993)