Under pressure from the federal government, the cable television industry recently agreed to monitor its programs for violent content (it remains, however, steadfastly opposed to monitoring programs for entertainment content). And the broadcast networks, which began running advisory warnings before shows last July, are pledged to have a similar system in place by this fall.
While the TV industry's Neville Chamberlain impersonation plays well with some would-be dictators--Sen. Paul Simon (D-Ill.) characterized the plan as a "breakthrough"--other despots-in-waiting are not so easily appeased. Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.)--who previously demonstrated an encyclopedic knowledge of popular culture by referring to Beavis and Butt-head as Buffcoat and Beaver--has told reporters that Congress has "got to act" and that he is ready to hold hearings on the constitutionality of his TV violence bill. Hollings's bill would bar violent programming during hours when children are likely to be watching. No word yet if the senator's characterization of black African leaders as "cannibals" is suitable for children.
Attorney General Janet Reno, who has characterized advisory labels as "itty-bitty steps" and who admitted on The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour that she had written a movie script about a 14-year-old boy whose crack addict mother eventually goes to law school, is likely to press for further regulation. The lurking agenda goes beyond proscribing TV violence to using the medium as the means to teach our children well. As President Clinton, in terms uncannily reminiscent of Pa Kent's counsel to Superman about responsibility, told a group of Hollywood movers and shakers, "You have the capacity to do good, culturally to help the way we behave, the way we think of ourselves."
The new, improved TV will no doubt be the equivalent of bran cereal--mushy, good-for-you, packed with (moral) fiber--and feature more uplift than a cross-your-heart bra. Below is a speculative look at the shapes of shows to come.
Ratings: S/MU: spiritual or moral uplift; ISS: implied safe sex; WW: win-win solution to intractable social disease or problem; ALG: ameliorated liberal guilt; VATCOT: violence avoided through court-ordered therapy; PCMM: potentially contradictory moral message; RPSE: reinforcement of positive self-esteem.
Mystery, She Wrote. Cabot Cove is engulfed by a wave of anonymous charitable gifts. The mayor asks Jessica to investigate so that the donors can be honored in a public ceremony. S/MU,ALG
The Sunday Night Movie: Blowing Up in Beverly Hills. A made-for-TV movie based on an actual event. After two troubled siblings (real-life brothers Emilio Estevez and Charlie Sheen) contemplate murdering their wealthy but insensitive parents, they decide instead to go to court. While attending mandatory therapy, the family explores and heals deep-seated conflicts. Inspired by the trial of Lyle and Erik Menendez. Dr. Goodfellow: Alan Alda. First of two parts. S/MU, VATCOT, RPSE
Married…Happily with Children. After Jefferson and Marcy's house is repossessed by a greedy banker, Al contacts Habitat for Humanity. Special appearance by Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter. S/MU, ISS
Geraldo. "Neo-Nazi Skinhead Makeovers: Skull and Clothes--and Then Some!" Hair stylist Christophe and fashion maven Mr. Blackwell create new looks as therapist John Bradshaw analyzes relevant family issues. S/MU, WW, RPSE
Monday Night Touch Football. Longstanding but friendly rivals the Dallas Cowpersons travel to the nation's capital to take on the Washington Native Americans in a divisional matchup. Halftime show: Ben & Jerry introduce their newest flavor, Spotted Owl Spumoni. S/MU
Murphy Brown. An out-of-hand practical-joke war has tragic consequences after Murphy agrees to do an anti-single motherhood spot with former Vice President Dan Quayle (played by himself). S/MU, WW, PCMM
Roseanne. After Roseanne admits that men and kids are OK, Jackie marries the father of her child. In an effort to reduce national health-care spending, Dan starts a diet-and-exercise plan but becomes grumpy during fast-food withdrawal. S/MU, ISS, PCMM
NYPD Blue. Realizing that most law-enforcement situations are incredibly complex, the force learns non-confrontational policing strategies from an elderly FBI agent who was once J. Edgar Hoover's lover (Buddy Ebsen). Kelly and Janice go to Coney Island and ride the Cyclone fully clothed. S/MU, WW, ALG
Runaway with the Differently Abled. Snorkeling in Antigua with Stevie Wonder; Marlee Matlin and Lou Ferrigno travel to Niagara Falls' Cave of the Winds; Life Goes On's Chris Burke tours the National Gallery and Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. Host: Robin Leach. S/MU
Melrose Place. Billy and Alison decide they should stop sleeping together until they are married. Amanda and Jake decide they should stop sleeping together until their test results are verified. Jo shoots and kills Reed in self-defense and decides to stop sleeping with him. After Michael and ex-wife Jane reconcile, they decide they should stop sleeping with other people. When increased efficiency in state-run health care eliminates Matt's job at the hospital, he finds work at a local condom store. S/MU, ISS, WW
The Simpsons. For his Eagle Scout community service project, Bart develops a workable plan to convert Springfield's nuclear power plant into a solar facility. Guest voice: Vice President Al Gore. S/MU, WW, RPSE
American Playhouse: Young Mr. Clinton. "In Doobie-ous Battle." While protesting the Vietnam War in England, Bill smokes marijuana without inhaling. Part 12 of 15. Next week: "To Russia with Love." S/MU, ISS, PCMM
L.A. Law. Douglas finally signs on to a plan to turn McKenzie-Brackman into a non-profit legal defense clinic. Stuart realizes the political justification of his beating during the L.A. riots and agrees to defend his attackers when the state brings new charges against them. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, Benny makes partner. S/MU, ALG, RPSE
Pay Per View: Howard Stern's Full-House Slumber Party. Full House's Ashley and Mary Kate Olsen join family-man D.J. Stern and his three daughters for an old-fashioned evening of songs, skits, and shenanigans. Highlights include sing-alongs to "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" (Ashley, Mary Kate, the Stern girls) and "Thank Heaven For Little Girls" (Howard, Ashley, Mary Kate), "phony" phone call to Cody Gifford, and Jr. Miss Howard Stern Beauty & Scholarship Contest. S/MU, RPSE
Beavis and Buddy. The boys critique "gangsta rap" videos while attending a boot camp for juvenile offenders. S/MU, VATCOT, PCMM, RPSE
Robert Reich's Money World. (Formerly Adam Smith's Money World.) Top-down income redistribution programs that really work. S/MU, WW, ALG
Night at the Movies: The Program. Special director's cut. In this new version of the 1993 Disney release, a down-on-his-luck coach (James Caan) gets the best effort possible from his talented-but-cocky players in a charity badminton match for pediatric AIDS. Edited for TV. S/MU, RPSE
Saturday Night Lite. Host: Reformed comedian Andrew "Nice" Clay. Skits include humorous look at rehab clinics, adolescent "Nice" Clay being picked on by school bully, Branch Davidians as victims of second-hand smoke. Musical guest: Recovering addict Roger Clinton. S/MU, PCMM
Nick Gillespie is assistant editor of REASON.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Meek Previews".