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Current TV fare blasted at panel

CBS Entertainment prexy Jeff Sagansky wants to see a reduction in the amount of violence on television.

Speaking on a panel sponsored by HBO and Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government titled “The Future of Television,” Sagansky said he would invite all the producers of CBS shows to a symposium where researchers would present their findings on the impact of TV violence on viewers, especially kids.

“All the networks have to do something” about the level of violence, he said. “If we don’t, the government is going to regulate us and we don’t want that to happen.”

“The Future of Television” panel was one of three at which academia and Hollywood were supposed to debate the medium’s brave new tomorrow. However, more time was spent talking about the state of the business today.

In the opening sesh, “Television and American Democracy,” Betsy Wright, assistant director of President Clinton’s transition team, lambasted what she viewed as “the blurring of the line” between “entertainment and information” as “a threat to democracy.”

Wright’s prime concern was the coverage of allegations surrounding Clinton’s relationship with Gennifer Flowers. Wright said she had to derail the stories of 12 women who had false claims that they had affairs with Clinton.

Two fellow panelists, CNN executive VP Ed Turner and C-SPAN chairman Brian Lamb, said Wright’s fears were unfounded.

“The viewers know the difference between legitimate news and entertainment,” said Turner.

C-SPAN’s Lamb applauded the uptick in news coverage that came with the expansion of channel capacity. In his opinion it was strengthening the democratic process, not weakening it.

The following sesh, “Television and American Culture,” was aptly described by U. of California professor and media critic Todd Gitlin as “a panel discussion from hell.” Gitlin, who dominated the discussion, harped on commercial TV for being “simply a marketing tool.”

“The Simpsons” creator Matt Groening was the only panelist to offer any real vision of the future and that was in the form of an anecdote about his two toddlers’ TV habits. It seems most of what they watch is videos or “Sesame Street.””I can’t even get to them to watch ‘The Simpsons,’ ” he admitted. “They have no tolerance for programs with commercials.”

On the last panel, “The Future of Television,””Brooklyn Bridge” producer Gary David Goldberg sounded a similar theme. He noted that “Bridge” and “I’ll Fly Away,” two critically acclaimed shows, could not survive in the current environment.

“Left to their own devices, the three networks would televise live executions ,” said Goldberg. “Except Fox — they’d televise live naked executions.”

Russell Neuman, a Tufts U. professor and author of several books on the medium, told his fellow panelists they all had it wrong. Predicting at the very least a 500-channel universe, and perhaps even 10 times that, by the year 2000, Neuman said the term “television” would become “something quaint like the term ‘horseless carriage.’ ”

HBO chairman Michael Fuchs questioned the cost of implementing the technology to make Neuman’s vision a reality. And CBS’ Sagansky challenged the assertion “that taking the video store into people’s homes” would make the network business obsolete.

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