Nets, producers ponder ratings application

While all entertainment fare on the small screen will likely be carrying a rating in January, network execs are vowing that the implementation of a ratings system will in no way affect the programming that goes on the air. For now, anyway.

“We are not changing the rules,” promises Rosalyn Weinman, senior veepee of NBC’s broadcast standards and content policy. Weinman said if producers are looking to use the ratings to take their shows to a higher level of adult content, that won’t happen. “Some producers were unhappy and wanted more wiggle room.”

But down the road, producers and networks are wary of what could come next. Some fear that once there is a ratings system in place, Congress will try to pass regulation dictating time periods for shows depending on their rating.

Family hour

Already there is a push inside the Beltway to bring back the “family hour” of 8-9 p.m. for wholesome fare. With ratings now attached to every show, such a law could require that only TVG-rated fare run in that hour. Although such a scenario may never happen, producers such as Dick Wolf are cautious of the “unintended consequences” of rating programming.

For now, network and studio execs are likely to spend the next few weeks scrambling to figure out ratings for their shows. Wolf, executive producer of NBC’s “Law & Order” and Fox’s “New York Undercover,” said he has yet to talk with webheads about rating his two series, but can’t imagine either getting anything higher than a TVPG – which means that the show “may contain some material that some parents would find unsuitable for younger children.”

Shows that will likely get the TVPG rating include comedies such as NBC’s “Friends” and “Seinfeld.” If the material in those shows are racier than usual, it will get a TV 14, which means “this program may contain some material that many parents would find unsuitable for children under 14 years of age.”

Sole M

ABC has said it will give its Steven Bochco drama “NYPD Blue” a TV-14. So far, the only broadcast event that appears likely for now to land a TV-M rating (which means mature audiences) will be NBC’s telecast of “Schindler’s List” this February. Other theatricals on television may also get that rating down the road.

ABC president Bob Iger stressed that producers need not worry that the web will in any way look to alter programming any more than they already do.

“This network paved the way for Bochco to put on ‘NYPD Blue’ against considerable resistance. We would do that again today even if we knew it would have a TV-14 rating on it. Those that suggest that our standards will change one way or the other are completely wrong.”

It took years for “NYPD Blue” to command an advertising rate that was representative of its ratings. However, the success of that show has made it easier for producers to take chances and get decent ad revenues.

CBS Entertainment president Leslie Moonves emphasized that it is time for the industry to get beyond the ratings debate and put the service in place before judging its impact.

“I don’t think our producers will have problems. Considering what the alternatives were, they should be pleased,” Moonves said. “This is a work in progress; let’s see how it works.”

Network execs and ad industry media buyers are not anticipating the ratings system leading to greater concern from advertisers over whether to buy a show based on its rating.

“Since the industry itself will be determining the ratings, advertisers cannot relay on that,” said Bill Croasdale, chairman of Western Media Intl., a media buying firm. “Virtually every advertiser reviews shows before buying spots. If a show is TVG-rated but has something that clashes with client guidelines, we won’t buy.”

On the syndication front, there seem to be several skirmishes going on over whether newsmag shows should be rated and how.

News ratings

While King World has said it won’t rate its two syndie newsmags, “Inside Edition” and “American Journal,” Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution says it has no problem rating its newsmag “Extra.” Par had no comment on whether it would slap a rating on “Hard Copy,” but sources said the company was furious with the committee’s decision regarding such shows.

“We will give an overall G rating to ‘Extra,’ changing that on a case-by-case basis, if we feel an individual story within an episode is something that needs to be rated differently,” said a spokeswoman for Warner Bros.

“The Rosie O’Donnell Show” will also carry a TV-G rating; while no decision has been made on “Jenny Jones,” the show will likely carry a TV-PG most days, with some episodes warranting a TV-14 and some a TV-G.

At the moment, Warner Bros. is leaning toward a TV-G rating for “In Person With Maureen O’Boyle.”

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