TV, D.C. cut content deal

NBC won't adopt beefed-up code to debut Oct. 1

WASHINGTON — Bowing to pressure from elected officials and kidvid advocates, broadcasters, with the important exception of NBC, have agreed to add symbols to their current content code to indicate if a show includes sex, violence or adult language.

The compromise sent a chill through the Hollywood production community, particularly producers of adult-oriented hourlong fare, who worry that advertisers will abandon shows tagged with violent or sexual ratings.

Broadcasters received their final assurances from Congress late Wednesday when Senate Commerce Committee chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) released a letter signed by Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and other senators agreeing to a moratorium of “several years” during which legislation covering “ratings, content or scheduling” should be set aside.

In return for the legislative cease-fire, broadcasters have promised to begin implementing the beefed-up content code on Oct. 1. Five representatives from kidvid advocacy groups will be added to the industry committee which oversees the rating system.

The deal calls for broadcast and cable networks add the “V”, “S” and “L” symbols to their current age-based ratings code. They symbols are designed to tell parents that a show includes sex, violence or adult language.

There will also be “D” symbols to tell parents if a show includes risque dialogue, and animated cartoons will include “FV” tags for fantasy violence. TV sets equipped with the so-called V-chip will be able to block shows based on their specific ratings.

In a statement announcing it would not be party to the new agreement but would continue to use the labeling system adopted six months ago, NBC noted it is “concerned that the ultimate aim of the current system’s critics is to dictate programming content” and that “there is no place for government involvement in what people watch on television.”

Because NBC is standing alone in its refusal to sign onto the deal, it may become the focus of criticism from advocacy groups in the coming weeks. If the Peacock web continues its holdout, Congress could write content legislation specifically targeted at the web, McCain said Wednesday night. However, McCain said he has spoken with NBC president Robert Wright and he expects Congress’ assurances to a legislative cease-fire will bring the web on board by Oct. 1.

Wright has said publicly that he personally opposes the new rating system, saying it takes the industry too close to government-coerced censorship. In a speech to New York broadcasters last week, Wright said he was disappointed that “our industry seems to have lost the sense of where to draw the line.”

Dick Wolf, producer of NBC’s “Law & Order,” likened the mood in Washington to McCarthyism and said that “any new programming that dares to walk an edge” is at risk.

” ‘Law and Order’ has had the highest advertiser pullout not on the basis of sex and violence — our two lead detectives have never fired a gun in seven years — but because (pressure groups) have made advertisers scared of the ideas we’ve discussed, ideas like assisted suicide and abortion,” said Wolf.

“The bottom line is that TV is advertiser-supported, and if you have a show that advertisers don’t support, it will get canceled,” Wolf added.

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