As expected, PG dominates prime-time TV ratings

THE BALTIMORE SUN

HOLLYWOOD -- Most programs broadcast in prime time merit parental-guidance labels but few warrant as much parental concern as would a PG-13 movie, based on the distribution of categories under the new TV ratings system.

The ratings system began Wednesday on the broadcast networks, appearing in the upper left-hand corner for 15 seconds when each program begins. The rating will be flashed a second time at the midway point during movies and hourlong dramas.

A random analysis of the coming week of Jan. 12-18, based on network log listings, underscores that TV-PG (parental guidance) by far the most utilized rating, encompassing nearly two-thirds of prime-time shows televised on the six broadcast networks.

Relatively few shows qualified for TV-G (general audiences, for shows with virtually nothing that might be considered unsuitable for children) and fewer still were labeled with the more restrictive TV-14, strongly recommending parental guidance for children under 14.

No programs on the six broadcast networks received the TV-M rating, which stands for "mature audiences" and generally equates to an R-rated movie.

That label will primarily be limited to uncut movies on pay TV channels, although NBC will use the TV-M when showing the Oscar-winning "Schindler's List" with only minor editing next month.

Network officials have long contended that nothing regularly broadcast in prime time would be racier than PG-13 if measured against the Motion Picture Association of America movie guidelines.

MPAA President Jack Valenti also was instrumental in drafting the new TV ratings system, which is patterned after the movie code.

Critics, meanwhile, complained even before the system was announced that virtually all shows would be given a PG rating, rendering the ratings meaningless. They also argued that the categories don't provide parents enough specific information about whether the program drew a certain designation for violence, sexual content or language.

Descriptions of each category do say what levels of those criteria fall within a certain rating, but they are not specified on-screen. The networks are providing additional information about specific categories through toll-free numbers and booklets detailing the guidelines.

Of 107 programs scheduled during the randomly chosen week, about one in four was rated TV-G, while just 10 percent of shows scheduled for broadcast warranted a TV-14 rating. That category included the series "NYPD Blue," "The X-Files," "Melrose Place," "Married ... With Children," "Millennium" and "Profiler," as well as CBS' new Larry Hagman drama "Orleans."

Made-for-TV movies commanded the balance of TV-14 ratings and thus far seem more likely to be flagged with that label than any other genre of programming. Nearly all daytime soap operas, such as CBS' "Guiding Light," ABC's "All My Children" and NBC's new "Sunset Beach," have also been put in that category.

Although each series will get a general rating based on its usual content, they can fluctuate from week to week.

Coming episodes of NBC's "Homicide: Life on the Street" and ABC's "Relativity," for example, will be rated TV-14, although in most instances those shows will fall in TV-PG territory.

Along the same lines, the first two installments of Fox's "Melrose Place" broadcast in January have received the TV-14 label, although subsequent episodes will probably earn only a PG, depending on content.

The same holds true for "Married ... With Children," the only comedy series given a TV-14 in the week monitored.

NBC has already said certain episodes of shows such as "Friends" or "Seinfeld" may have to carry a more restrictive warning on a case-by-case basis, while a show such as ABC's "Coach" was rated G on Wednesday but PG on Jan. 15.

The overall count excludes newsmagazine programs and sports, which are exempt from the ratings. Separate ratings of TV-Y and Y-7, respectively, apply specifically to children's programs.

Under the self-imposed system agreed to by the television industry, networks rate themselves through the departments that screen programs to make sure they meet broadcast standards. An oversight committee will be responsible for handling complaints such as determining whether ratings are being applied equally by different outlets.

Most cable networks are expected to follow suit later this month. Pay services such as HBO and Showtime already provide breakdowns similar to that sought by critics of the industry-adopted system, specifying levels of violence, nudity, language and sexual content.

Unlike those channels, however, the networks rely on advertising to support them, and there has been speculation that advertisers would be more reluctant to sponsor programs in the TV-14 category.

Media buyers do screen shows in which they purchase ad time and have said they will continue to employ the same parameters in judging whether programs meet their standards. Some advertisers have in the past steered clear of programs with parental-discretion advisories, before implementation of the ratings system, though others are usually quick to fill the void.

Pub Date: 1/04/97

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