TV Plan Earns R Rating (Ruckus) Critics Say Plan, Similar to Movie System, Should Stress Content More Than Age

Article excerpt

It's one of the biggest developments in broadcasting since the cable box. Beginning next year, most shows on TV - from "Murphy Brown" to "The Big Bad Beetleborgs" - will likely carry a tag intended to inform parents about program violence and sexual content.

This rating system, unveiled in Washington Thursday, represents an unprecedented industry attempt to warn viewers about what comes over the small screen. It's also meant to mollify a public increasingly restive about plots based on gunplay or titillation.

But the proposal to go to an age-based system, similar to the way movies are rated, may not quiet the growing cultural war between Hollywood and Main Street America. While the final plan announced by a group of television executives goes further than some earlier drafts had suggested, it still doesn't satisfy many child-advocacy and parents' groups, who want more specific data about the amount and type of sex, violence, and language in a given show rather than just age labels. "We still don't consider the ratings content-based," says Shirley Igo of the National Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) in Chicago. They are vowing to fight the new system, which must be approved by the Federal Communications Commission by Feb. 8. Yet television representatives, led by Jack Valenti, the head of the Motion Picture Association of America Inc. and chair of the panel that devised the system, are equally adamant that they will not be bullied into changing a plan that they consider fair and effective. The result is that the imbroglio over the small screen, already a dominant cultural issue, seems likely to endure in the political arena - and perhaps the courts. "What we're doing is in the long-range interest of every parent in the country who has small children," insisted Jack Valenti at the press conference unveiling the system. At the core of the dispute is the nature of the information the new system will display. Not surprisingly, since Mr. Valenti helped design the current movie-rating system, the TV ratings closely resemble those for film both in style and substance. The categories range from "TV-G," for a general audience, to "TV-M," for mature audiences only. …