Originally created 01/17/97

TV ratings flop

The new TV ratings have been with us now for a couple of weeks and not only are they difficult to decipher, they're hard to notice - appearing almost imperceptibly in the upper left hand corner of the screen for a brief 15 seconds at the start of each show.

This is supposed to help parents regulate their children's viewing habits? Forget it.

Without a conscious effort to look for the rating, it'll be missed. That's not a convenience, it's a pain in the neck.

Moreover, ratings only appear on mainstream network shows. Thousands of hours of syndicated and cable channel programming don't carry them at all. And there's no tipoff in TV program guides - as there are in movie guides - about what to expect either.

All this underscores what we've said from the outset: The ratings were developed by the TV industry to reflect the industry's interests, not the public's. And those interests are not to enlighten, but to confuse.

What, for instance, does TV-PG mean? Not many viewers could say, even though it is clearly the rating of choice appearing much more often than the other half-dozen or ratings.

Actually, TV-PG means some material will be unsuitable for young children. But how informative is that? What material? How unsuitable? And what ages are covered by "young children"?

Actress and mother Meryl Streep, who knows more than most about the entertainment industry, describes the TV ratings as "inscrutable" to her.

This very confusion seems designed to encourage even more explicit shows on the theory that, if parents are warned to keep children from watching, producers can make shows as sexy or violent as they want without being labeled irresponsible.

The bottom line is that the TV industry is looking out for itself. Parents still must look out for their children.

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