After weeks of banter about television violence, more than 400 members of the industry will hole up in Beverly Hills today for a daylong conference on the issue, which is skedded to include a keynote address by one of the prime Congressional movers in the debate, Sen. Paul Simon (D-Ill.).
The event, arranged months ago and sponsored by the National Council for Families & Television, has taken on added heat in the wake of public hearings and a near-constant barrage of press coverage in recent weeks.
Simon, who authored the 1990 Violence in Television Act, was also scheduled to hold a private meeting with about 30 industry leaders Sunday night.
Network and studio officials, many of whom are skeptical of the agenda behind the debate on Capi-tol Hill, are calling the seminar a “consciousness-raising” session that Motion Picture Assn. of America prez Jack Valenti hopes will be “the first step in a series of meetings and dialogues” on the issue.
Some elected officials may expect more concrete progress from the conference, while many within the entertainment industry — put off by what they see as Orwellian proposals regarding the use of V-Block technology aimed at violent programming — have said Congress is grandstanding at the expense of TV to impress its constituents.
In an interview with Daily Variety, Valenti said the mere fact that the industry is gathering to address the issue is “a measure of (the seminar’s) success.” He noted that there will be two actions regardless of what comes out of the conference: increased labeling of violent programming and a series of additional meetings on the matter. While some lawmakers have maintained that self-policing measures don’t go far enough, Valenti pointed to the progress made in similar consciousness-raising efforts regarding depictions of smoking and drug use.
“I think it’s possible to make an imprint,” the MPAA prez stated, saying the industry “ought to be genuine in our desire to reduce violence.”
Valenti — who, during a speech last week, questioned research findings indicating a correlation between violence in the media and society — also called for more dispassionate study of the matter. There’s “something monstrously wrong” with studies that fail to distinguish between the violence in a Three Stooges short and “GoodFellas.”
Day of talks
The morning session features two panels moderated by ABC News correspondent and media analyst Jeff Greenfield, while the afternoon — which promises to provide the most fireworks — will be modeled after the Socratic dialogue forums conducted by Fred Friendly on public TV, with industry executives and TV activists participating and Arthur R. Miller acting as moderator.
Those participating in the afternoon session include TV executives Tony Cox (Showtime), Mel Harris (Sony Pictures Entertainment TV Group), producer Leonard Hill, Gerald Isenberg (Hearst Entertainment), Phil Jones (Meredith Corp. Broadcasting Group), Jennifer Lawson (PBS), Jeff Sagansky (CBS), Scott Sassa (Turner Entertainment Group) and producer Dick Wolf.
Others include J. Andrea Alstrup, an advertising exec with Johnson & Johnson; Action for Children’s Television founder Peggy Charren; William Dietz, American Academy of Pediatrics; Carole Lieberman, National Coalition on Television Violence; Americans for Responsible TV founder Terry Rakolta; and ACLU president Nadine Strossen.
In the morning, “The Children are Watching” will feature Nickelodeon’s Geraldine Laybourne, NBC exec John Miller, DIC Animation City’s Andy Heyward, producer Arnold Shapiro, child development psychologist Karen Hill Scott and CapCities/ABC broadcast standards VP Christine Hikawa. The first panel, “What the Experts Say,” will feature academics Edward Donnerstein, Leonard Eron and George Gerbner.
The NCFT was founded in 1977 and bills itself as a “non-adversarial, educational organization” bringing together Hollywood’s creative community and oher groups.