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Sauter: Riot TV ‘godawful’

Fox News president Van Gordon Sauter yesterday termed “godawful” the performance of Los Angeles television news outlets in the aftermath of last year’s L.A. riots.

For a community that experienced this country’s most significant uprising ever, a city “which sees itself on the verge of a total implosion” and with a school system “on the verge of a cataclysmic collapse,” he lambasted local stations for the absence of prime time documentaries and town halls, news series “of consequence and seriousness,” locally produced public service announcements and editorials.

But, Sauter quickly pointed out, you could just as well visit TV markets across the country “and find local television that is totally unresponsive to the pressing urban requirements of our day.”

People have a “very short memory span,” emphasized Sauter, referring to the riots. “It is no longer a factor in our daily lives.”

His comments came during a National Assn. of Television Program Executives panel entitled “TV Since L.A,” during which he and others stressed that little’s been done on TV to help combat racism.

Regrettably, the event was sparsely attended, perhaps in large part to NATPE’s decision to schedule it in the early morning of the conference’s final day.

“I think entertainment television would well serve its public both in terms of information and entertainment if it reflected a wide range of sentiments and realities,” Sauter said.

However, he doesn’t anticipate any substantive changes in general programming content. If anything does change, he added, it will have to start at the local news level.

When there was “an enforced requirement and the threat of retribution” in the late ’70s, there was “far more attention given to the hiring and promotion of minorities than there is today,” maintained Sauter. He wasn’t sure FCC intervention was the answer to that, either.

“We certainly require a higher level of commitment and courage and vision on the part of the ownership of television of America,” Sauter said. “We’ve been badly served.”

Actor-producer-director Tim Reid, co-chairman of United Image Entertainment, spoke about the “closed shop” that Hollywood has been creatively for minorities.

Further, he said, he’s left his L.A. address by choice and now lives in a small community in the South “with people who don’t really care about overnights. … These are the people who are the people that this room is trying to reach.”

“People have changed,” he said, noting a sense of optimism.

As operators of television, “We are still doing things the same way. People are looking to us to catch up with them,” said Reid.

“Television’s been doing the same thing for 40 years and it keeps on doing that same thing,” said “I’ll Fly Away” executive producer David Chase. Thinking about his experiences with his critically acclaimed but ratings-troubled NBC series, he said, “Maybe in some way America’s getting the television it deserves.”

It was television, Chase charged, that long ago “created these short attention spans.”

When asked when he thought he’d see a Hispanic, Asian or African-American president of a network news division, Sauter responded, “Not in my lifetime.”

Sauter termed Johnathan Rodgers, president of CBS O&Os, “perfectly competent” for such a job but opined that perhaps he’d rather “go run a studio.” Outside of Rodgers, however, Sauter said he’d “be hard-pressed” to think of anyone else in the traditional pipeline.

David Crippens, KCET’s senior vice president of educational enterprises, asserted, “We have to keep the balance between what it means to make money and what is good for society.”

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