TV Ratings

TV Ratings

E-mail debates of newsworthy topics.
Jan. 25 1997 3:30 AM

TV Ratings

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       Nell, the new ratings are far from perfect, but they are an important step in the right direction. For the first time, broadcasters acknowledge that many programs are not appropriate for children. The proposed system will help parents sort through the avalanche of programming. Once the V-chip television sets are on the market, this will make it possible for parents to program them to protect kids from seeing programs their parents do not want them to see. The proposed system will give parents the information and the technology to help them monitor what their kids are exposed to.
       Any rating system for television is much, much more difficult than rating movies. The first problem is the volume. All of the movies produced in a year would fill less than one broadcast week for network and cable. The second problem is the medium itself, which comes into the home. Three-year-olds do not wander into movie theaters, but they do toddle over to the television and turn it on. That is the reason for one of the major advantages of the proposed system over the movie-rating system--the attention to younger children. The proposed ratings make a distinction between children 7 and older, and those who are younger, which is very important to parents of preschoolers.
       There are better systems, such as the one HBO uses on cable, and the one you use to help parents through your "Movie Mom" Web site and your book. Parents will insist on improvements as we learn how the new system works effectively, or fails miserably, to win parents' support. We are beginning to put the parents' hands on the remote control--a monumental step forward.
       If parents disagree with the ratings the broadcasters assign to their own programs, the resulting poor public relations will be a nightmare for the television producers--and the advertisers. That's the point. This gets a dialogue going between the people who make the shows and the people who watch them. Ideally, parents will someday have the opportunity to choose among ratings not just from the broadcasters, but also from the PTA, the Christian Coalition, the Children's Defense Fund, or the local newspaper. Any rating system can be used to program the V-chip. In an era when our children spend more time with television than with books, music, or sports; than in school, church, mosque, or synagogue--than even with their parents--that is a crucial contribution.

This exchange is adapted from an article forthcoming in Parents magazine.