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Politicking TV

by Amy Zidell

10.03.00

The Presidential race has both the Democrats and the Republicans making noise about the issue of violent and adult themed programming being promoted to children. Much of this furor comes after the release of a FTC report on such matters. This issue is a pretty simple no-brainer. Promoting R-rated films to the Sesame Street audience is bad. It's also a less that prudent utilization of marketing budgets. At least it would seem that way. I'm no entertainment biz marketing guru, but the adult audience isn't watching kids programming. Well that is, unless the adults produced the children's programming, it's Looney Tunes or the adults in question are under the influence of various substances and are concerned about the sexual orientation of Tinky Winky. It's a Tele Tubbie people. Despite all this obviousness, this issue has managed to capture the flavor of classic Democrat versus Republican debates on the preferred method of personal freedoms.

I find it terribly offensive to have someone tell me what I can watch. If I were a parent I'd find it equally offensive that someone else thought it was their business to police what my kids watch. I assume of course that I would be a reasonably responsible parent monitoring and discussing programming and topics that arose during a perusal of various forms of media existing now or in the future. Hey, you've got to plan. Until such personal procreation, I can answer what I am comfortable answering to my niece and nephews knowing very well I have the ever present trump card, "That's a question I bet your daddy would want to answer for you." [Note: I say daddy because this relates to either of my brothers. Certainly my sisters-in-law are quite capable of answering questions from their children, it's just much more fun for me to see my brother's responses.]

Lost in all this election politicking, concerns about personal freedom, fear of big brother, first amendment rights, censorship, and the rights of liberty, buried underneath questions of violence and inappropriate material for children, I think a much bigger matter waits for the light of day -- namely, the question of stupid, substandard material. It's not a quality issue. There are certainly finely crafted works of various media that are stupid while technically slick. Who is going to step up to the plate and protect the American people, yea the global population from stupid, insipid and generally not good programming? The MPAA doesn't warn viewers about that. The V-chip won't stop stupid shows from invading your living room. If a V-chip why not an S-chip?

What agency is monitoring the effect of implausible plots, plot holes, continuity problems and sit-coms that forget the 'com' stands for COMEDY? How must that twist a young person's mind? How does that effect the state of mind of an adult looking for entertainment finding puzzlement instead? This is a cross-the-board issue effecting children's, primetime, syndicated, fringe, daytime, reality and news programming. I'd like to see one candidate take on the originality issue head on.

Of course, that's not the only problem. It may only be legislation spearheaded by the leadership of a great president that can eliminate the phenomena of theme recycling. While it's been discussed numerous times every quote states that, "It just happens." Clearly something is going on when multiple films debut centered around the same general theme or setting. I suspect a conspiracy rather than mere coincidence is at work. If it's not a government sponsored conspiracy and subject of an upcoming Oliver Stone film, it's a perfect time for government intervention -- when we can't control what's going on ourselves. While they're at it, how about doing something about the glut of nuptially influenced television season finales? Someone ought to do something about knock-off/rip-off programming too. Sure politicians talk about trade deficits, who's talking about creativity deficits? Whatever happens, please leave spin-offs alone. Spin-offs provide a perfect example of good old fashioned laissez-faire capitalism working just like it's supposed to. Spin-offs are fine; they usually have a hard enough act to follow that if they don't work they don't last that long. If their spinning makes sense, they can become institutions of their own. Take "Rhoda," spun off from "Mary Tyler Moore," or "Hercules - The Legendary Journeys" spinner "Xena: Warrior Princess", you couldn't ask for better spin-offs. On the other hand there was that "Married With Children" spin-off with Matt LeBlanc. And the Chachi and Joanie "Happy Days" spin off which shared "Happy Days" alumni status with "Laverne & Shirley" and "Mork & Mindy" but not their success. Spin-offs seem to operate within their own economic spheres. I hope our representatives have enough sense to leave a system, even a sub system, that's working fine well enough alone!

I'm going to watch the debate and see which candidate has the courage to address the issues of substandard entertainment. I just hope the debate's appropriate programming.

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