Salhany sounds off on violence at TCA

Fox Broadcasting Co. chairman Lucie Salhany took the offensive on TV’s hottest issue, television violence, in a speech on the first day of the three-week TV Critics Assn. tour. Based on the discussion that followed, it was clearly the subject scribes wanted to talk about.

In fact, questions to Salhany on congressional pressure to curb TV violence outnumbered those on any other subject by a 2-to-1 margin. In her remarks, Salhany acknowledged the appropriateness of viewer-discretion labeling, but cautioned against establishing precedents to further restrict content, adding that decisions regarding children’s viewing habits ultimately belong with parents.

Citing the so-called “V-chip,” a device that would allow parents to block all violent-labeled programming, Salhany said, “The very idea of the ‘V-chip’ scares me,” since it could augur other chips to curtail sex, news or — she quipped in the wake of recent remarks by the head of the California Bar Assn. — lawyer jokes.

“Have we so abrogated our responsibility as parents to talk about things like violence on television with our children that we have to ask technology to stand in for us?” Salhany asked. “Let’s keep freedom of choice and responsibility for our children in the homes.”

Salhany also pointed out that network TV is less violent now than in the early ’70s or ’80s, when the airwaves at times contained nearly two dozen crime dramas. She added that a direct correlation between TV depictions of violence and actual violence “has not been proved to me one way or another,” but that the networks have an obligation to greater vigilance in that area if there’s even a chance such a correlation exists.

Still, Salhany also said TV “cannot take the place of parents” and that “you have to look at the total picture. You can’t just blame the ills of society on television.”

Fox’s “Cops” already carries a viewer-discretion advisory and so might some of its movies, both acquired and original, Salhany said. At this point, no other program (including “America’s Most Wanted,” which moves to a later 9 p.m. slot next month) will be labeled.

On other matters, Salhany said possible efforts to launch a fifth broadcast network — backed by the Chris-Craft station group and a studio like Warner Bros. or Paramount — could reach about 70% of the U.S. on broadcast stations, adding that Fox “welcomes emerging networks.”

Ironically, Salhany was part of a bid to launch a fifth network with MCA while she was an executive at Paramount, though the effort faced staunch opposition from Fox, which sought to stave off any attempts to woo away its affiliates. Currently, Warner Bros. is preparing to roll out a second night of its syndicated Prime Time Entertainment Network, which features the shows “Time Trax” and “Kung Fu: The Legend Continues.”

Salhany also reiterated earlier statements she made to Fox affils about vertical integration by companies like Time Warner, Viacom and Paramount, and the need for Fox to “control its own destiny” through increased in-house production. This time, however, she also sought to alleviate concerns of outside suppliers by saying Fox will still be “a very big buyer,” looking to sister division Twentieth TV only to “produce slightly more programming for us,” not to become an in-house unit for Fox Broadcasting.

One of Salhany’s pet projects, the late night “Chevy Chase Show,” will premiere Sept. 7, and Fox will pave the way for its arrival with Chase hosting the prime time lineup Sept. 5 — including the season premiere of “Married … With Children” and debut of “Daddy Dearest”– and the airing of the Chase-starring theatrical “Fletch” in the Monday movie slot Sept. 6.

Fox Entertainment Group prez Sandy Grushow also laid out the rest of Fox’s new-season rollout (early premieres of seven series were announced last week), with “The X-Files” to join the Friday sked Sept. 10, “Townsend Television” leading off Sunday beginning Sept. 12, “Bakersfield” filling in Tuesday’s slate Sept. 14 and “In Living Color” and “Herman’s Head” having their new-season Thursday intros Sept. 16. “The Simpsons” will stay in reruns until Sept. 30.

Despite the dearth of original programming on the weblet this summer, Grushow said Fox still must “be there when the other guys aren’t” in terms of scheduling. The exec also maintained that Fox is “not going to play dead” either Tuesday opposite “Roseanne” or Thursday vs. NBC’s “Seinfeld,” with “Most Wanted” and “In Living Color,” respectively, in those slots.

Asked about the failure of youth ensemble dramas like “Class of ’96” and “The Heights,” Grushow said all the networks, and Fox in particular, “went to the well once too often” in that genre. Yet Grushow contended that, even with the failure rate of new shows, short six-episode orders on new series — such as those used by CBS — are a mistake, making the temptation “too great” to quickly pull the plug. All new Fox series have 13-episode pick-ups, he said.

According to Salhany, upfront advertising sales for next season remains “slow” but shouldn’t be characterized as soft. She also acknowledged a drop-off in rates for the Chase show from the first to second half-hour, when competition from Jay Leno and David Letterman kicks in.

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