NEW ORLEANS — Admitting that his own company “releases some films that I am ashamed of,” Time Warner vice chairman Ted Turner transformed a discussion Monday of television and the American family into his own personal gripe session in support of the new content rating system and the V-chip, and in contempt of human nature’s embracing of violence in both entertainment and society at large.
The 90-minute event, held on the campus of Loyola U. and taped for a half-hour, commercial-free special entitled “The American Family and Television: A National Town Hall Meeting” that will simulcast April 7 on 10 cable networks, was moderated by producer Linda Ellerbee.
On the panel were CBS Entertainment prexy Les Moonves, producer Marcy Carsey, Grey Advertising senior VP Jon Mandel, FCC chairman Reed Hundt and Turner, chairman of the National Cable Television Assn.
Turner was particularly critical of Time Warner’s release via Fine Line Features of the film “Crash,” for which he had suggested a deep-six but was overruled.
“This film is about young people who get their sexual kind of thrills by getting into car crashes,” Turner said. “It’s just the worst piece of garbage I ever saw in my life. I guess there are just a lot of sickies out there. You just can’t get too sick for these people. Slice ’em and dice ’em and cannibalism and all kinds of abuse.”
But the Mouth of the South was just getting warmed up.
“You can say what you want. People just like to watch violence. They love to watch the news and see murder after murder … Then they turn on Fox and watch specials where animals commit violence against people. They just love to watch shows where people will be killed. Then they slow down on the freeway and look over to see blood. I don’t know what the hell’s wrong with us, quite frankly.
‘A lot of real crap’
“And the truth is, a lot of the most violent programs are theatrical movies. A lot of those are made and sold that shouldn’t be. That disturbs my sense of responsibility. There is a lot of real crap being put out there.”
Yet when a woman seated in the audience complained that everything on television was too violent, Turner shot back, “Not on the Cartoon Network.” After she persisted that there was nothing educational to be found on TV, he replied, “Get out your VCR … We have the Learning Channel and Mind Extension University. You could watch educational shows 24 hours a day on cable if you wanted to. But that doesn’t mean people are going to do it.”
When the spotlight was off Turner, the dialogue surrounded the charge by many in the audience that network TV was rife with violence and programming inappropriate for children. All five panelists, however, disagreed, particu-larly Moonves and Carsey.
‘NYPD’ violence off-camera
Moonves declared that the gratuitous violence he hears so much about “simply is not there. Not a single per-son has been shot on camera since ‘NYPD Blue’ started, for instance.”
Added Carsey: “There are very few violent shows on network TV. And when there is violence, it has consequences. That’s important.”
Moonves also noted that CBS now features such wholesome 8 p.m. shows as “Touched by an Angel” and “Cosby,” programs that bring back the concept of a family viewing hour in primetime.
“We struggle to be diverse and entertaining and yet be responsible,” Moonves said. “Television does not devalue human life. In fact, I think we have saved more lives than we have cost. The social good that TV does far out-weighs the bad, and we never get credit for that.”
Much of the discussion at the session centered on the controversy over the content ratings system currently under fire from special interest groups. The system’s viability is being reassessed by the FCC. Turner, however, said at the very least he believes the system is “better than nothing.”
“I feel like maybe we should give it another year to monitor it and, if we need to implement a tougher system, then we should look at that,” he said. “If it doesn’t work, it’ll be changed. It’s not like some undercover drug operation. It’s not hidden in a barrel. It’s right there, and if people are abusing it, it’ll be changed.”