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Anti-violence roundup: No room for ‘Bonanza’?

NEWS FLASH: The head of the California Bar Assn. calls for a “cease-fire” on lawyer-bashing in the wake of the murder of eight people in a San Francisco law office.

This demonstrates the sort of fuzzy logic the networks have to deal with in the face of the groundswell to curb television violence — that somehow, the big factor in Gian Luigi Ferri’s decision to arm himself with multiple automatic weapons last week and indiscriminately start shooting can be traced to lawyer jokes. Then again, what kind of reasoning do you expect from a lawyer? (Oops.)

Actually, the whole anti-violence campaign, which many felt could be dismissed at one point as a tempest in a teapot, has taken on such life exactly because it’s coming from a number of otherwise-rational sources. These are people and groups who’d object to efforts to curb TV content as it pertains to portrayals of sexuality or political themes.

On this issue, in fact, right-wing pressure groups like those led by the Rev. Donald Wildmon and self-appointed activist Terry Rakolta have found unlikely allies in the form of liberals seeking to use TV to put forth pro-social messages, even though the sides would agree on little else.

For both, television has become an extremely convenient target — particularly those on the left side of the aisle, consistently thwarted in their other efforts to increase social spending or take on the handgun lobby.

When all else fails, about the only target more agreeable to the mass audience than lawyers is television, since even the people who watch it regularly lambaste the medium.

The criticism from the California Bar Assn., however, reflects just the sort of danger proponents of free expression and choice (known in laymen’s terms as “changing the channel”) advocate when they talk about allowing outsiders to establish parameters for television violence — ground rules that don’t always recognize the difference between “GoodFellas,””Universal Soldier,” a Three Stooges short and a Warner Bros. cartoon.

Those with an ax to grind won’t stop at violence, and programmers, whose soft underbelly has now been exposed in regard to such assaults, will soon find themselves fending off virtually every group imaginable. Eventually, as stated by California bar president Harvey Saferstein, jokes at the expense of lawyers might well be characterized as “nothing more than hate speech.”

SO WHERE’S THE PERIL in all of this? Here are just a few of the television shows that might not survive today in a world of rampant political correctness:

“Hawaii Five-O”– All those serial killers and shootouts wouldn’t sit too well these days, not to mention the fact that criminal genius Wo Fat was Chinese. Could also spur dangerous imitative behavior both in terms of violence and, for kids, overdosing on styling gel trying to make their hair look like Jack Lord’s.

“Bonanza”– Forget the warm ties between the characters. This show is objectionable based on excessive violence, particularly toward women who happen to fall in love with one of the Cartwrights, who suffer an 89% mortality rate. Aside from the gunplay, the show also seems to advocate life without a mother.

“All in the Family”– Sorry, but Archie Bunker is just too warm and lovable for a guy who uses all those derogatory terms about minorities (or, as Archie’s fond of saying, “minor-orities”). Although his character is essentially the butt of jokes, there’s too great a chance that the show could spur imitation of its hate speech by young children.

“The Twilight Zone”– Too scary. Too violent. Too good.

“The Honeymooners”– Could lead to violence against women: The lead character , Ralph Kramden, constantly threatens to beat his wife. Bang, zoom, straight off the schedule.

“St. Elsewhere”– The American Medical Assn. will object strongly to the portrayal of several doctors as self-centered, materialistic boors.

“Kolchak: The Night Stalker”– Excessive violence toward werewolves, vampires and mummies. Also, it might convince children that there actually are monsters living in their closet.

Thus far, with few exceptions, the entertainment industry has been notably silent in strenuously voicing such objections, instead falling back on promises like “we’ll do better” and “we’ll try harder.”

Unfortunately, those who work in TV are reluctant to weigh in on behalf of the medium because there’s so little television programming worth defending. It’s hard to go to bat and stake one’s reputation on the right to air “Walker, Texas Ranger,” even if the principle is virtually the same as past attacks on more esoteric programs like “thirtysomething” and “Quantum Leap.”

If programmers cave in completely on the violence issue, rest assured the assault won’t end there. Once the barrier is breached, the next time outside forces come after more meritorious fare, one has to wonder whether anyone will be left to man the guns or hold down the fort.

FERRI RIDE: Speaking of the Ferri case, KNBC-TV made a big, big reach Monday by leading its 11 p.m. news with some homevideo showing the gunman playing around with assault rifles in the desert. The report followed the ho-hum footage by interviewing someone who was shooting with Ferri that day, asking probing questions about what the killer ordered for lunch.

KNBC hasn’t served up this sort of in-depth reporting since the second Rodney King beating trial, when the station provided daily updates on the jury’s lunch menu. The piece added nothing to the Ferri story, except to prove that the video was available, and provided another example of just how unappetizing local news has become.

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