In response to damning criticism leveled at the entertainment industry after school shootings, DIC Entertainment and advocacy org Mediascope have launched revised guidelines for kids’ programming.
The “Special Considerations for Creators of Children’s Media” — a 16-point list advising scribes how to craft responsible kiddie plotlines — was initiated after September’s violence-focused Children’s Media Summit in Los Angeles.
Broken down into three parts — character and values, conflict and violence and diversity and stereotypes — the voluntary guidelines propose, for example, that writers steer clear from encouraging characters to ridicule others.
“The loner kids that get picked on and bullied — these are the kids who are so alienated, and these are the kids who were (the gunmen) from Columbine,” said Mediascope’s Laurie Trotta, a member of the guidelines drafting committee.
Other key recommendations include writers incorporating more diverse characters (single-parent families or adopted children) from different socioeconomic backgrounds; showing violence and crime only when those acts can be paired with the right consequences; and solving conflict through dialogue rather than force.
“It’s not like people gathered around a table and said that we accept blame,” explained Trotta. “But we are accepting responsibility for what we put out.
“There are generally wonderful kids shows, but there are still a lot of them that have lots of violence in them and that’s what affects kids,” added Trotta.
Several years ago, Mediascope released recommendations for children’s programming but decided to regroup in the wake of the Columbine High School shootings in Colorado.
Biz execs fleshing out the new document’s details since last fall’s session (in addition to reps from DIC) include insiders from CBS, Fox Family Worldwide, NBC Entertainment, Nelvana Entertainment, the Disney Channel, the WB, Fox Kids, the Learning Channel and Sega of America.
Also pitching in were members of the Animation Writers Caucus and the Writers Guild of America.
Given Hollywood’s widespread involvement, “this isn’t some rigid code that’s going to be slopped down on writers,” said DIC exec VP of creative affairs and summit co-producer Robby London. “We were extremely sensitive about restricting creative freedoms.”
Mediascope is considering hosting a public event in the fall to spread the word about the new TV guidelines.
So far, kiddie writers are taking the suggestions to heart.
“Honestly, I expected there to be a large degree of resistance to adopting the guidelines, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised that it isn’t at all the case,” said DIC’s London. “Most kids’ writers are concerned about their work’s impact on kids.”
And at DIC specifically, “I’m seeing more and more ‘Madeline’ scripts with morality lessons, and I’d like to think that was a result of the guidelines,” he said.
London suspects the voluntary code may even jump-start new story ideas. “You could pick any one of these guidelines and wing 20 stories from it,” he said.
Other members of the “Special Considerations” drafting committee included UCLA education professor Gordon Berry and Stanford U. professor Donald Roberts.