To paraphrase that famous Wendy’s campaign, come fall, network TV viewers and those monitoring the industry may find themselves asking, “Where’s the violence?”
Those concerned about efforts to regulate violence on television have discussed problems in defining what’s objectionable; that dilemma is demonstrated by a brief survey of the regularly scheduled prime time series on the three networks and Fox Broadcasting Co.
Of 91 shows, excluding seven regular movie slots and “Monday Night Football,” only about 16 involve themes or premises that regularly deal with violence or action that could be perceived as violent.
That mix includes three hours of reality programming (“Cops,””America’s Most Wanted” and “Unsolved Mysteries”) that deal occasionally with murders or violence and, in the case of the last two, dramatic re-creations of such events.
There are also 10 hours of network news magazines that, at times, explore violent situations, such as “Day One’s” profile of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer.
Still, those who’ve come away from the recent hearings on TV violence convinced that network series are boiling over with murder and mayhem — at least on the series front — may have to look twice.
In addition, some of the shows that regularly involve violence are light murder mysteries like “Matlock” and “Murder, She Wrote,” which play to a much older audience (largely viewers over 50) and probably won’t raise the hackles of lawmakers.
A whopping 47 series, more than half of all regularly scheduled programs, are half-hour situation comedies.
There are three more comedy-variety shows (“In Living Color,””Paula Poundstone” and “Townsend Television”) and a trio of reality hours: “Rescue 911, “”I Witness Video” and the “America’s Funniest” combo.
Looking at the two dozen one-hour dramatic series on the air, four (“Beverly Hills, 90210,””Melrose Place,””Sisters” and the new CBS soap “Angel Falls”) are character-oriented ensembles or soaps that deal primarily in romance and relationships.
Another trio of character-driven shows includes “Northern Exposure,” seen by many as essentially a one-hour comedy; “Against the Grain,” a new NBC family drama about a small-town football coach; and “Harts of the West,” about a modern Chicago family that takes over a Western dude ranch.
Both “L.A. Law” and “Picket Fences” deal with violent themes as part of crimes and cases connected to the series, while “Law & Order” largely focuses on the aftermath, investigation and prosecution of crimes.
Another question, in terms of establishing parameters, involves whether violence in fantasy or historical settings is viewed as severely as more graphic , modern-day displays. At least one watchdog group doesn’t make a distinction, calling “The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles,” set during World War I, the most violent program on TV last season.
In terms of period fare, there are two Westerns scheduled, CBS’ “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman,” which only sporadically involves flare-ups of frontier violence; and the new Fox hour “The Adventures of Brisco County Jr.,” a cliffhanger about a bounty hunter hunting down the West’s worst outlaws.
The two biggest risks scheduled will also involve some violence, though both “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman” and Steven Spielberg’s futuristic “seaQuest DSV”– which will air opposite each other — figure to feature encounters of the comic book variety. Similarly, Fox’s “The X-Files” is about a pair of FBI agents investigating unexplained cases that may or may not involve paranormal phenonema.
That would seem to leave only a half-dozen shows falling under more conventional headings that deal directly in violent themes: “NYPD Blue,” Steven Bochco’s gritty police drama, which has all along been tagged as a show that would carry a parental advisory; “Walker, Texas Ranger,” a Chuck Norris action vehicle; “The Commish” and “In the Heat of the Night,” both returning cop shows; “Missing Persons,” about a missing-persons unit; and “South of Sunset,” featuring a pair of Hollywood private eyes.
To a lesser degree, “Do the Strand,” a”Moonlighting”-like romantic action show, is set around a Miami security firm.
TV movies an offender
Television movies and miniseries are perceived as the biggest offenders in terms of violent network content and came under special fire during the May sweeps, which included programs like “Murder in the Heartland,””When Love Kills” and “In the Line of Duty: Ambush at Waco.”
Several fact-based movies with violent themes are already slated for next season, with titles like “Murder Between Friends,””Sudden Fury,””Betrayed by Love,””The Menendez Murders” and “Murder of Innocence.”
Among the theatricals sure to draw attention will be CBS’ network premiere of Oscar winner “The Silence of the Lambs.”
There will also be a number of new syndicated shows — among them “Robocop: The Series”– skewed heavily toward the action genre, joining series like “Kung Fu: The Legend Continues,””The Untouchables” and “Highlander.”
The networks have maintained that cable channels and even independent stations that air such programs offer more violent material than the webs in prime time.