Anti-violence mood hurts NATPE action

The rabid anti-violence atmosphere in Washington, climaxed by FCC topper Reed Hundt’s speech here Tuesday, slammed hard into distributors trying to sell firstrun action hours at NATPE.

One producer, who requested anonymity because he didn’t want to become a target of the Federal Communications Commission, said, “It’s an outrage that a government official used aOprah Winfrey’s conspicuous absence, other NATPE news, page 8

commercial trade show to lecture TV stations about what they can and can’t buy. He’s hurting my business, and I don’t like it.”

John Serrao, general manager of KCRA inSacramento and president of Kelly Broadcast Enterprises, said, “Congress is really putting the pressure on us to clean up our act.”

What Serrao fears is that the FCC could decide to go after one or more independent TV stations that fill their primetime schedule with action hours — like Cannell’s “The Renegade,” Paramount’s “The Untouchables” and Warner Bros.’ “Time Trax”– and slap huge fines on them.

It’s precisely that kind of looming threat that has caused some stations to hesitate before buying a new action hour or renewing an old one.

“Violence is a new factor in our buying decisions,” says Erv Parthe, VP of programming for the Meredith TV station group, whose KPHO, the Phoenix indie, carries the MCA TV “Action Pack” series of 24 two-hour movies, among other firstrun shows. “I’ve rejected movie packages that have too many violent pictures, and other movies I’ll play only late at night.”

George Back, chairman of All American TV Distribution, says many of the stations looking at All American’s firstrun cop show “Sirens””wanted us to explain carefully how we were going to handle the violence on the show. Our answer is that we’re more interested in the stalking, the stealth, the anticipation of violence rather than the showing of the actual violence itself. Handling it that way makes for a much more suspenseful drama.”

At least All American was able to convince the powerful group of Chris Craft/United TV stations, including KCOP L.A. and WWOR New York, which signed up for the series on Tuesday, Back says.

Cannell Distribution was trying to finesse the violence issue with the clip it’s showing at NATPE of “Hawkeye,” the proposed weekly hourlong series, which is a clone of the hard-action theatrical movie “The Last of the Mohicans.”

In the clip, Lee Horsely as Hawkeye aims his flintlock rifle at an Indian brandishing a hatchet about 30 yards away. The rifle misfires. The Indian charges Hawkeye, who starts the complicated process of re-loading the ancient rifle. Hawkeye finishes reloading and raises the barrel just as the Indian gets within three feet of him. The Indian stops, and both men stand frozen for about 10 seconds. Then the Indian lowers the hatchet, and walks away.

Distribs are trying to convince station buyers that there’s a difference between action and violence.

“Syndicators are kidding themselves if they think Washington will tolerate this kind of logic,” says Janeen Bjork, VP and director of programming for the TV-rep firm Seltel Inc., who worries that one of her indie station clients that schedules lots of these action hours could end up on the wrong end of a monster fine from the FCC.

But Jason Elkin, chairman and CEO of New Vision TV, the Atlanta-based indie station group, says action shows often harvest better ratings than other syndicated offerings available to indies, making it hard for the stations to walk away from them.

With violence as Topic A on every NATPE-goer’s mind, Derk Zimmerman, president and CEO of Group W Prods., was happy to be hawking four one-hour documentary specials hosted by John Chancellor under the umbrella title “Victory Over Violence.”

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