TV books wrestle with new ratings system

Now that the TV content-ratings codes have been unveiled, publications such as TV Guide, the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times must decide how, or whether, they will implement the designations into their published listings.

TV Guide, which earlier this year endorsed the system (and reiterates its position in an editorial in the Dec. 28-Jan. 3 issue), will begin including the codes in its weekly listings in mid-January, according to Steven Reddicliffe, TV Guide’s editor in chief.

“We are going to use them and implement them,” Reddicliffe said. “We’re in the TV information business and have been for 43 years. Listing information like channels, running times and now this, is what we do.”

But for consumer newspapers, implementation creates logistical problems, which editors at the New York and L.A. dailies say prevents them from committing to a date when they will begin running the codes.

“We are studying the question of how we might accommodate them,” a spokesman for the New York Times said. “This is not a change we could make overnight, because our TV listings are packed tightly with a lot of information.”

Only if necessary

An editor of the TV section of the paper added, “My understanding is that we would implement them as soon as there is a need to.”

Lee Margulies, TV editor for the Los Angeles Times, said: “We very much want to include them, but basically it’s too soon to commit. Logistically, we have to look at how much space they would take.”

Margulies added that it is not clear whether the networks will provide the ratings, or whether the Times would have to collect the information itself in enough time to make deadlines.

Since shows will be rated by individual episode, the ability to get a rating on a given show by deadline is compounded for syndicated shows, which air different episodes on different weeks in different markets. Moreover, shows such as “Seinfeld,” which feature radically different themes each week, could carry a PG rating one week and a PG-14 the next, again presenting deadline problems for those who list shows.

A matter of time

“At what point will they know they’re airing the show?” Margulies asked. “And will they be able to alert us in time?”

While parent groups have called for more extensive info regarding content of shows, Reddicliffe said that TV Guide will not include any data other than the code icons themselves.

“What we do in any listing is give detailed information regarding the plot of any show,” Reddicliffe said. “I think these age-based definitions clearly are based on the content of a given show. I don’t think some of the other proposals go any further to provide more information.”

Regardless of the amount of information they choose to include, publications may have to contend with either adding pages to their listings or including fewer listings because of increased space requirements.

“Depending on the size, whether we will use a certain typeface or an icon, you either increase space or something gets dropped,” Margulies said.

But for TV Guide’s Reddicliffe, this isn’t a major concern for the weekly with a circulation of 13 million.

“It won’t increase our paging to any significant degree,” he said. “But even if it does cause an increase, it’s worth dealing with.”

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