Out of America: TV moguls find that violence might not pay

WASHINGTON - Just an egregious example of crocodile tears - or is there the faint glimmer of a chance that an era of peace and loving kindness is about to dawn on the killing fields of the American television networks? Whatever else, though, it was a bizarre spectacle on Capitol Hill last week. A selection of top television executives were testifying to the Senate's Judiciary Sub-committee on the Constitution. Shamefacedly, the assembled luminaries confessed they were 'not proud' of the programmes in the latest instalment of the 'May ratings sweep', the regular spring battle for viewers among the major networks, which determine the all-important advertising rates they may charge during the summer months.

The modesty was not misplaced. A precise death, rape and battery count for what TV critics now dub 'Murder Month' will not be in for a few days yet. But last weekend saw a climax of kinds. These days, the networks' preferred format for small- screen violence is the dramatised true story. I missed ABC's flagship contribution on Saturday night, entitled Deadly Relations, which recreates the tale of how a drug- and alcohol-crazed former navy officer slaughtered members of his family. But I did catch the most heavily trailed offering of the season - Ambush in Waco, NBC's dramatisation of the events leading up to the first attack on the Branch Davidian compound at Mount Carmel in which four police agents died and 15 more were wounded.

For sheer newsiness, you have to hand it to NBC. They started work the day after the 28 February raid, and had the finished two-hour product, mostly filmed near Tulsa, Oklahoma, at a purpose-built replica of the cult headquarters, on the air in less than three months. And by the standards of the genre it wasn't bad at all. The story was vividly told, and the portrayal of messiah-cum-maniac David Koresh was compellingly believable. But the fact remains that all was a build-up to the shoot-out at the end, lasting a full seven minutes and leaving not a spatter of blood or scream of agony to the imagination.

Such are Sunday evenings around the family hearth here. But as those congressional hearings a day or two before suggest, the TV moguls now have to explain themselves.

Concern at the endemic violence on American television is nothing new, and no longer only in the US. A fortnight ago, an 18- year-old in Manitoba went on a killing spree; he told police he had modelled his deeds on another ABC special this month called Murder in the Heartland, based on the true story of a MidWestern teenager who in 1958 shot dead the family of his 14- year-old girlfriend after her parents told her to end the relationship. And that was orderly Canada. In this trigger-happy country, who knows how many crimes are similarly inspired?

America is a country addicted to numbers, and those pertaining to small-screen violence are mind-boggling: in the random month of February, according to Nancy Signorielli, Professor of Communications at the University of Delaware, violence featured in 63 per cent of prime- time network programmes, at the rate of five incidents an hour. The American Psychological Association has calculated that by the time a child reaches the age of 11, he or she will have already watched 8,000 televised murders and 100,000 lesser acts of brutality - not counting the real-life mayhem on the news bulletins, be it from Bosnia or the Bronx. A study monitored 10 local channels around Washington during a single 18-hour span one day last year: it counted 1,846 instances of violence.

Just maybe, however, there is reason to hope. The polls show an ever-growing majority of the population, 80 per cent in one survey, which feels matters have gone too far. And time may be running out for the networks. A 1990 bill sponsored by Democratic Senator Paul Simon, the Judiciary Sub-committee's chairman, in effect gave them three years to clean up their act voluntarily. If not, Mr Simon and his colleagues warn, new measures may come, ranging from computer chips blocking shows rated as violent to federal sanctions against offending broadcasters.

To which, of course, the TV men object with lofty speeches about the evil of censorship and the First Amendment guarantee of free speech. But they have been worried enough to schedule an unprecedented meeting in Los Angeles this summer to address the whole issue of violence. Normally one would not expect too much of this - the networks live by profits after all, and is not violence a sure-fire winner? In fact, the ratings suggest, not so.

If that penny drops, then last week's tears on Capitol Hill may be real after all, and Murder Month a thing of the past.

Suggested Topics
News
Davis says: 'My career has been about filling a niche - there were fewer short actors and fewer roles – but now I'm being offered all kinds of things'
PeopleWarwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
Voices
A Russian hunter at the Medved bear-hunting lodge in Siberia
Save the tigerWildlife charities turn to those who kill animals to help save them
News
i100
Sport
Frank Lampard will pass Billy Wright and equal Bobby Charton’s caps tally of 106 caps against
sportFormer Chelsea midfielder in Etihad stopgap before New York contract
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
The first film introduced Daniel Radcliffe to our screens, pictured here as he prepares to board the train to Hogwarts for the first time.
booksHow reading Harry Potter helps children grow up to be gay-friendly
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Aladdin is performed at the Tony Awards in New York in June
theatreBrit producer Lythgoe makes kids' musical comedy a Los Angeles hit
Sport
Usain Bolt of Jamaica smiles and shakes hands with a competitor after Jamaica won their first heat in the men's 4x100m relay
sport
News
Chancellor George Osborne, along with the Prime Minister, have been 'complacently claiming the economy is now fixed', according to shadow Chancellor Ed Balls
i100... which is awkward, because he is their boss, after all
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

(Senior) IT Support Engineer - 1st-3rd Line Support

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful IT service provider that has bee...

Wind Farm Civil Design Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principal Marine Mechanical Engineer

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principle Geotechnical Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Day In a Page

Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

How has your club fared in summer sales?

Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
Warwick Davis: The British actor on Ricky Gervais, how the Harry Potter set became his office, and why he'd like to play a spy

'I'm a realist; I know how hard this business is'

Warwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

The best swim shorts for men

Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Meet the couple blamed for bringing Lucifer into local politics
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup