The move, announced at a Capitol Hill news conference yesterday by top executives of ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox Television, is the biggest self-policing step ever taken by the US entertainment industry.
The networks hope the concession, which will start in autumn, will fend off even stricter rules under discussion here to bring in a formal television ratings system akin to those applying to films in cinemas, and blocking devices that would allow parents to programme their television sets to black out shows they do not want their children to watch.
The driving force behind the campaign is the growing volume of evidence that endless carnage on television has contributed to the growth of crime, especially among the young. It is reported that the average 11- year-old will have seen 100,000 acts of televised violence and 8,000 murders. Another recent study showed that of US high school students, one in five had carried a weapon during the previous month. Television is seen as the prime culprit.
The commitment by the four networks, whose share of the total television audiences has been dropping for years, falls well short of a promise to stop showing violent programmes. The screen warnings will merely say 'due to some violent content, parental discretion advised'. Television entertainment, a joint statement insisted, 'cannot be allowed to become barren of dramatic excitement'.
Even so even the networks acknowledge that programmes aired as part of the 'ratings sweeps' of May, crucial for the autumn advertising rates, brought gratuitous violence to new heights. A Canadian mass killer even admitted that he had been inspired by a May 'drama-documentary' on US television about a Fifties murderer in the United States' Midwest.