WASHINGTON — Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has thrown another curveball at Hollywood by not inviting MPAA prexy and Washington veteran Jack Valenti to testify alongside top studio execs at a politically charged hearing on the marketing of violent movies to kids.
Studio chiefs had automatically assumed Valenti would accompany them to the Sept. 27 hearing of the Senate Commerce Committee so that he could officially unveil an industrywide policy clamping down on the sale of violence to younger audiences.
But a witness list released by McCain’s committee late Friday does not include Valenti, even though he brought the studios together to formulate their response, and the studios had requested that he be allowed to participate. Neither McCain nor committee staff could be reached for comment Sunday.
The feud between Hollywood and McCain erupted on Sept. 13 when Valenti testified solo on an FTC report accusing Hollywood of doing an end-run around the Motion Picture Assn. of America’s rating system and blatantly selling violence to younger audiences. Valenti said top movie execs were unable to cancel plans in order to accept last-minute invitations from the commerce committee.
An irate McCain, however, accused movie execs of being arrogant and demanded their presence at the followup Wednesday session. A top-level exec from each of the major studios will be at the hearing, albeit without Valenti.
Washington insiders say McCain is still furious with Hollywood and is now taking it out, at least in part, on Valenti.
Over the weekend, Valenti and the studios worked to finalize an MPAA initiative designed to correct problems pointed out in the FTC report. The seven major studios, as well as DreamWorks, are in the final stages of signing off on the initiative, which will be carried out under the MPAA’s umbrella.
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The initiative is expected to promise parents more information and education about why a movie has received the rating it has.
Particular studios may supplement the general provisions of the MPAA initiative with additional measures, with Warner Bros. and Paramount likely to do so.
Meanwhile, studios are now scrambling to figure out how the MPAA initiative will be presented if McCain doesn’t relent and allow Valenti to testify. One possibility is that Valenti will submit written testimony outlining the industrywide initiative.
Valenti declined comment Sunday.
“I think the general mood is one of anticipation, because we have been told that we are really going to be taken to the woodshed. Everyone feels that we’ve been set up,” one studio exec said.
Hollywood is cringing at the thought that the studio representatives lined up to testify before the commerce committee will somehow conjure up the memory of tobacco industry officials being caught in a lie before a congressional committee.
Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Utah), a commerce committee member, has been known to play clips of movies he finds objectionable at congressional hearings. Whether he does that this week is uncertain.
Like Brownback, several of the studio witnesses testifying have young children, perhaps providing an added bonus for Hollywood in general.
Those testifying include Paramount VP for motion picture group Rob Friedman, Fox prexy Jim Gianopolis, Sony prexy-chief operating officer Mel Harris, Warner Bros. prexy-chief operating officer Alan Horn, Disney (and Miramax) prexy-chief operating officer Robert Iger, MGM vice chair-chief operating officer Chris McGurk, Universal chair Stacey Snider and Walter Parkes of DreamWorks.
Several lawmakers, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), have praised Disney for pulling ahead of the pack immediately after the FTC report was released and announcing policies ensuring that violent content is not marketed to kids.
Industry officials point out that some of the policies apply only to “Disney-branded” films, meaning that films put out by Disney-owned subsidiaries, such as Miramax, won’t be affected. Miramax is known widely for its teenage, slasher movies.
Whatever the MPAA initiative calls for, it is not expected to call for the death of the 32-year-old rating system, which Valenti continues to defend.