ABC set to offer viewer advisory hot line

ABC has taken another step on the program-labeling front with a viewer advisory hotline. ABC Entertainment prez Ted Harbert told visiting TV critics that both the webs and viewers will be served better by such self-policing tactics.

The ABC Advisory Hotline, made known to viewers via on-air announcements starting Aug. 1, will be a national toll-free number offering recorded information informing parents and otherwise-concerned viewers about programs that will carry an advisory and their content.

Harbert also went to lengths to stress that the web’s Steven Bochco series “NYPD Blue” will not carry a “V” label, as has been proposed on Capitol Hill for violent programs. The specific warning for the pilot will read, “This police drama contains adult language and scenes with partial nudity. Viewer discretion is advised,” and could be amended in the future.

Fielding numerous questions about “Blue” and the partially related question of TV violence standards, Harbert noted that only a producer of Bochco’s caliber would be given the license to stretch programming boundaries in this manner and that ABC has no intention of loosening standards for other programs. He called the series an experiment, saying, “If for some reason it doesn’t work, we may not do it again.”

Harbert added, however, that the networks shouldn’t go overboard in curbing producers onhighly subjective matters like language, saying,”We are in the business of giving these very talented people a forum to express themselves.”

The exec also took exception to recently conducted surveys citing overwhelming viewer concern regarding TV violence — pointing out that the way such studies are conducted renders them “meaningless”– and cautioned against allowing the government to dictate content standards that ultimately come down to personal taste.

“When you get into V-chips, that’s just the problem: Who decides?” Harbert asked, later rejecting the need for standardizing violence guidelines by saying, “If uniformity would mean let’s have the feds get into it, no, I don’t think that’s necessary.”

Harbert reiterated his aim to limit violence on ABC, saying he’s “grown personally tired of the ‘families killing families’ ” TV movies and might not have bought the miniseries “Murder in the Heartland”– which contributed to anti-violence sentiment with its airing in May — had the decision been his. Harbert became headof the entertainment division in January.

Asked about the pursuit of fact-based movie rights, Harbert certainly wouldn’t rule out the practice but acknowledged such projects frequently made the networks look “silly.” He also said that “the idea of paying someone $ 500, 000 for getting lost in the snow is beyond me”– a reference to CBS’ plans for a movie about snowbound couple Jim and Jennifer Stolpa.

In another jab at the Eye network, Harbert said he has “yet to see the financial advantages” of short-ordering new series (CBS picked up six or eight episodes of its shows, as opposed to the conventional 13), feeling the practice can only reduce producer morale by exhibiting a perceived lack of confidence.

ABC has 13-episode commitments on all its new shows but has the option to reduce the order to eight on “George” and the sophomore comedy “Where I Live,” which won’t premiere until Oct. 30.

Harbert wouldn’t handicap the upcoming season overall (CBS has said it will win the household ratings crown) but pointed to 8 p.m. Sunday as a key hour, with ABC’s “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman” providing a potential boost to the web’s movie franchise.

“If we do well there, we’re a pretty tough network,” Harbert said.

Despite the proliferation of news magazines, Harbert maintained those shows haven’t as yet cut into slots previously reserved for sitcoms and drama series, instead reducing (and in some cases eliminating) network reliance on reality programming.

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