WASHINGTON — Called to task like contrite students, Hollywood studio execs watched Walt Disney Co. rush to the head of the class Wednesday and demand the role of teacher’s pet during a hearing on Capitol Hill.
Rare was the sight of top execs from the seven majors and DreamWorks filing into the Senate Commerce Committee to take their seats, in alphabetical order, at a long table facing Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and other senators. Their mission was to answer satisfactorily concerns that they market R-rated movies to kids.
Cramped, with shoulders touching, the studio execs seemed to be enjoying a brief, friendly respite from the competitive playing field 3,000 miles away in Los Angeles.
Disney gets praise
That is, until Sen. Fritz Hollings (D-S.C.) read a letter sent to him in recent days by Disney VP for governmental relations Preston Padden. In the letter, Padden explained that Disney had stepped ahead of the pack by announcing new initiatives designed to counter an FTC report on the marketing of violent movies.
According to Hollings, Padden wrote that Disney was “honestly trying to do the right things for the right reasons,” and that Disney chairman and CEO Michael Eisner was working hard to address the “violence” issue. Continuing, Hollings quoted Padden as stating, “The other networks, though, are not following our lead and instead are accusing us of unworthy motives.”
“He (Padden) then says, ‘and any help you can give us would be greatly appreciated,’ ” Hollings said.
The packed audience, made up of studio soldiers and press, erupted. Padden, something of a Washington institution, was not present at the hearing.
If Disney prexy-chief operating officer Robert Iger — the Mouse’s witness at the hearing — was embarrassed, he didn’t show it. Quite the contrary, since Iger pulled a surprise move of his own, when announcing the Mouse’s support of a universal rating system for the various sectors of the entertainment industry, such as movies, music and vidgames.
“There is an outcry to make things easier for parents,” Iger explained to reporters after the hearing.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), chairman of the commerce committee, and other key lawmakers have been calling for enactment of such a system, while Valenti and most of the entertainment universe think it’s an unworkable idea.
Surprise reaction from some
“People were surprised that he (Iger) called for a universal rating system. You would have to create a bureaucracy as big as the IRS to carry it through,” one industry official said.
Instead, Valenti’s MPAA and the studios have unveiled a 12-point initiative designed to improve the rating system so as to further shield children from images of violence, as well as to give parents more information about particular ratings.
Studio toppers on hand at the congressional hearing didn’t seem that bothered by Disney’s rush to please, saying the Mouse is about family values, after all.
And Disney wasn’t the only studio to augment the new MPAA initiative with additional measures. Fox Filmed Entertainment announced its enhancements earlier this week, while Warner Bros. unveiled its new policies at Wednesday’s hearing.
Among other things, Warner Bros.:
- Will not market R-rated films in print or television where more than 35% of the audience is under the age of 17.
- Will not enter into promotions or toy-driven product tie-ins targeted to children for R-rated films.
- Will not license, manufacture or allow to be manufactured merchandise aimed at children for R-rated films.
- Will add supplemental language designating the reasons for ratings in all places where the ratings appear.
McCain and other lawmakers repeatedly praised Warner, Disney and Fox for going beyond the confines of the MPAA initiative — which they said wasn’t good enough.