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The Forerunner

Advertisers Drop Trash TV

By Editorial Staff
Published May 19, 1989

TUPELO, MS (FR) – Major television networks and advertisers are feeling the pressure of citizens upset over “trash T.V.,” according to the leader of the largest grassroots activist network aimed at decency on the airwaves. ABC recently cancelled two programs, “Crimes of Passion II” and “Scandals II,” while NBC cancelled a made-for-television movie, “The Prize Pulitzer” – because the programs exploited sex and violence in a graphic and brutal way. “It was the first time in the history of television that programs were cancelled because advertisers said ‘no!’” said Rev. Don Wildmon, director of CLEAR-TV (Christian Leaders for Responsible Television).

“The advertisers said no because they were aware that CLEAR-TV was monitoring TV shows during the ‘sweeps’ period. The group of ministers and churches is also planning to announce “a one-year boycott of one or more of the leading sponsors of sex, violence, profanity and anti-Christian stereotyping,” said Rev. Wildmon. The Chrysler Corporation and Sears, Roebuck & Co., pulled spots from NBC’s “Nightingales” series after the American Nurses Association mounted a massive letter-writing campaign against advertisers. The Mennen Company also pulled its commercials from the prime-time show “Thirtysomething.”

NBC Entertainment President Brandon Tartikoff told Advertising Age that he was beefing up the network’s broadcast standards operation in response to this trend. “I do think there is a shift in audience taste, and we’d be foolish not to listen to that feedback,” he said.

He explained, “Anytime you experiment or try to push the boundaries of what’s acceptable, you’re going to find sometimes you push too far. We’re not in the business of pushing boundaries. It would be a frivolous enterprise to be pushing the boundaries back when the audience is saying, ‘I can’t watch this with my family because it’s on at 9 p.m. and my 11-year-old is still up.”

According to Advertising Age, the networks may end up paying for their mistakes, while advertisers may rebel against the lenient network programming standards by withholding ad support from certain shows. Some clients are up in arms because of offensive programming.

“There’s going to be some reluctance to commit to any shows that look potentially offensive in any way, and in those shows, the units may go at any price,” said Michael Drexler, executive vice-president of Bozell, Jacobs, Kenyon & Eckhardt in New York.

“The networks have gone too far,” added Paul Isaacson, executive vice-president of Young & Rubicam in New York. “They lost support, but now NBC … the leading network in this, has recognized client attitudes. They recognize they stepped over the line and will step back. This could temper the issue and mean it is hotter right now than it will be.”

Isaacson continued, “The networks also had to do something because the entire industry is colored by the ‘trash TV’ syndrome. It gives TV a bad name, and people are conditioned to be unreceptive.”

NBC’s Tartikoff responded by saying that “problem shows” are going to be the first to feel the squeeze. Advertisers and agencies have stepped up efforts to screen shows. Coca-Cola and McDonald’s, among other companies, have asked their agencies to screen the shows more diligently, according to Advertising Age.

“The next three years will be the moment of truth for the Big 3 TV networks,” a Procter & Gamble executive told Advertising Age. “We’ve told networks that no one wants them to succeed more than us – there’s a definite need for a viable national medium. But the quality of programming is holding us back. Believe me, it’s not an issue that’s unique to P&G.”

He also said that Procter & Gamble has found it increasingly difficult to make family-oriented programming buys on network TV. The Ralston Purina Company stopped advertising its Eveready batteries on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live,” and General Mills pulled its ads because of questionable content in certain skits on the comedy show.

Although some industry executives expect the furor over program content to die down, CLEAR-TV’s Wildmon is planning to announce a boycott either this month or July. He told Advertising Age that the networks have passed the line. “They’ve been pushing it and pushing it, and now there is more disgust than I’ve ever seen. The response rate to our mailings is 35 percent to 40 percent higher than two years ago. It all boils down to programming.”

“There’s been a proliferation of programming coupled with the sort of frantic reaching for more bizarre spectacular or dramatic material to attract viewers,” said Jerry Welsh, president of Welsh Marketing Associates. “It’s been an assault on good taste. There’s a limit and then the backlash, which can be considerable.”

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