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
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
Sport
footballStriker has moved on loan for the remainder of the season
News
people Emma Watson addresses celebrity nude photo leak
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
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

SEN Teachers and Support Staff

£50 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you an SEN Teacher or L...

SharePoint Engineer - Bishop's Stortford

£30000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organ...

Planning Manager (Training, Learning and Development) - London

£35000 - £38000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glob...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£50 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you a Teaching Assistant...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering