Producers of TV Soaps Asked to Be Less Steamy and More Abstemious

Article excerpt

AS seen on daytime television, the young could be getting less restless and the beautiful may no longer be so bold. After 50 years, the soaps may be out to clean up their act.

The writers who churn out midday melodrama for 30 million Americans on shows like "All My Children" and "Days of Our Lives" say the winds of social change are blowing through daytime TV. That means more responsible portrayals of sex, teen pregnancy, and other behavior are going on the storyboards.

Dealing more realistically with love and relationships, following moves in recent years to minimize portrayals of drinking and smoking, won't change how the world turns but it could have an impact.

As many as 17 percent of Americans tune into daytime soaps, many of whom will be watching tonight as the industry celebrates its first half century with a television special. Because the audience is so large, steady, and young - 31 percent of viewers are 18- to 29-year-old women - social scientists say soap operas offer an opportunity to engender social change across the country and around the globe.

"There is no clear causal relationship between what people watch on TV and how they behave," says Brian Stonehill, a media analyst at Pomona College in Claremont, Calif. "But soap producers are trying harder {to portray more responsible actions} because they've realized Americans do get a sense that behaviors are OK when they see them on TV."

With that premise, Population Communications International (PCI) - an advocacy group that promotes population control and more responsible attitudes toward sexuality, childrearing, and women - is urging writers and producers of soap operas to think about the behaviors they dramatize.

Several scriptwriters say they will draw heavily on information gleaned at PCI's first-ever "Soap Summit" recently held here. US Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders, UN population adviser Dr. Allan Rosenfield, and director of the California Department of Social Services Eloise Anderson were among the 45 experts helping to stir dialogue between top writers and producers.

The goal: how to incorporate story lines that "will affect US attitudes toward reproductive behavior."

"Let us change from a market saturated with the glamour of sex to one saturated with the necessary caution, responsibility, and understanding such an experience requires," said Ms. …

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