WHEN ABC-TV was offered a package of 90 "Tom and Jerry" cartoons, Susan Futterman decided to turn down the deal. She throught there was "a lot of blatant violence" in the programs.
At CBS, Paul Bogrow was shown a cartoon about a girl who could not get along with her friends until she fixed up her hair and dressed like "a Southern belle." He vetoed the program because of its "sexual stereotyping."
They are the new breed to network "kidvid" censors whose jobs were created in the '70s: Bogrow, 34, a psychologist with a PhD from Harvard; and Futterman, 36, a specialist in early childhood development with a Harvard master's degree in education.
Along with Raymond Dewey -- at 46, a 19-year veteran of NBC-TV -- they are the three moral arbiters who decide what is good or bad for millions of young TV viewers. They are the "internal consciences" of the networks, says Futterman, who censors only children's programs, while her counterparts also monitor other types of programming.
All of them have the sensitive task of responding to pressure-groups about such issues as violence and racial stereotyping. And in addition to internal network rules governing children's television, they all labor under a number of loose strictures, including the Federal Communications Commission's 1974 Children's Policy Statement. It set out a list of guidelines requesting that stations present "a reasonable amount" of children's programs -- "designed to educate and inform, not simply entertain" -- and asked that the programs appear throught the week, not only on weekends.
Although ultimate authority rests with the networks' respective heads of "program standards and practices" in New York, the West-Coast-based censors will be the ones on the firing line if new requirements for children's programs -- one of several options now being considered by the FCC -- go into effect.
ABC's Futterman relishes her tough reputation. (She says that when a producer found out recently that she was pregnant, he joked, "I hope it's going to be a minority.") Conceding that her decisions do interfere with the creative process, she counters that "we have a responsibility to the public."
More willing to discuss specifics than her counterparts, Futterman (who gave birth to her first child three months ago) points with pride to censorship decisions she has made over the years:
She was responsible for vetoing the amimation series "Speedy Gonzalez" because of the way it depicted Mexican-Americans. (The cartoon was also turned down by CBS for the same reason, but picked up by NBC.)
She is constantly reminding producers to put minority characters in crowd scenes.
A black female character in the cartoon "Ricketty Rocket" had too high-pitched a voice. "We often have to re-educate minority actors who have spent their lives being stereotypic," she says.
An American Indian character speaking pidgin English was changed so he was more articulate.
The mother of a child who was name calling was made critical of the behavior instead of accepting.
For his part, CBS' Bogrow says he would not put the old Popeye cartoons on the air now. The inevitable violence and the depiction of Olive as perpetually helpless would make the show unacceptable, he feels. The new improved version of Popeye currently airing on CBS shows Olive "as a three-dimensional character," he says, "in a two-dimensional way."
All three censors have made noticeable changes in children's programming -- especially in the reduction of violence -- and few will dispute their good intentions. But they are, to a large extent, acting in the dark -- since little is known about the effect of television on children, or anyone else.
NBC's Raymond Dewey says, "We don't know what the long-term effect of TV is. The only way we're going to know is to measure a group of children from infancy to adulthood with television, and a control group without television. But even then you might not know because of cultural and social interaction.
"Everybody has an opinion. And when you're dealing with something as subjective as this, everybody's is valid."
Children's television has been around as long as the medium. In the early years -- the 1950 era of "Howdy Doody" and "Kukla, Fran and Ollie" -- as much as half of it was presented without advertising. But by the early '60s, networks had discovered the enormous profit possibilities of children's programs, and Saturday mornings in particular. The trend accelerated in 1966 when Fred Silverman, then at CBS, established the weekly block of cartoons which came to be known as the "Saturday morning ghetto." Networks began competing against each other in the same time-slot, and -- as Futterman sees it -- the programs became "more and more violent."
By 1968, when Action for Children's Television was founded in Peggy Charren's living room in Newtonville, Mass., children's television had become, in Charren's words, "wall-to-wall monster cartoons." In the last 10 years, ACT has become, according to Broadcasting magazine, "the main consumer force behind changes in children's programming." Leading assults on a number of fronts -- ranging from advertising directed toward children to the depiction of minorities and women -- ACT spokespeople (among them in the mid-1970s was Susan Futterman, then a college instructor) challenged program producers and networks to examine critically their presentation of children's programming and to provide more diversity.
Lou Scheimer, president of Filmation Studios, a major supplier of children's programs including "Flash Gordon" and "Fat Ablert," says "I credit pressure groups with making networks and producers more sensitive to the needs of viewers."
By the early 1970s, written and unwritten standards for children's programs began to be promulgated at the networks. For example, ABC's formal guidelines stipulate that "a program designed for the 2-to-12 age group must . . . present pro-social values which the young viewer can benefit from even if the program is entertainment oriented."
To the networks' departments of broadcast standards practices (the industry's euphemism for censors) fell the task of policing the program producers. They have laid out three problem areas, insisting that producers not depict: dangerous acts which a child might imitate, such as getting into a refrigerator; gratuitious violence; and negative sexual and racial stereotypes.
The interpretation of the guidelines has at times angered producers for their lack of uniformity from network to network, and for what is sometimes perceived as unnecessary rigidity.
"In some cases, the broadcast standards people have over-reacted," complains Margaret Loesch, a vice president of Hanna-Barbera Productions and a former NBC executive responsible for children's programs.
As examples of inconsistency among networks, she says that while none of the three will permit weapons in Saturday morning shows, ABC has extended the prohibition to a pie in the face. The same network, generally considered the strictest, does not allow showing one cartoon character pushing a boulder off a cliff so that it lands on another character, she states.
CBS' Bogrow and others say that the networks have recently eased their regulations allowing program producers more latitude, having "erred on the side of caution" several years ago in response to pressure groups.
Anti-violence rules would not have allowed the depiction of one boy striking another as a reaction to the drug "angel dust" several years ago; but today such a sequence would receive approval, Bogrow says.
Loesch agrees that the networks are re-examining their standards. When she was at NBC, the censor shot down a proposal to air an animated series based on Homer's "Odyssey" on the grounds that the scene in which the Cyclops has his eye put out was too violent. At the time, she thought, "My Lord, if you can't put classics on Saturday morning, we're in real trouble." Today, she believes the case could be reopened.
Despite the changes, there have not been enough of them to satisfy groups like ACT or the children's television task force of the FCC.
In October of last year the task force noted in a report that despite the 1974 FCC policy statement, there have been "insignificant changes in the amount of educational and instructional programming available to children since 1974."
The report said the staff also "found scant change in the practice of scheduling most programs for children on Saturday morning" despite the fact that Saturday morning "represents only 8 percent of children's total weekly viewing."
The task force recommended that the FCC require stations to carry a minimum of five hours a week for pre-school age children (age 2 to 5), and 2 1/2 hours a week for children 6 to 12 -- all of which would be broadcast on weekdays between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.
On Dec. 19 of last year, the commission voted to proceed with a comprehensive review of children's programming, presenting five options -- including the task-force recommendations -- for an eight-month period of public comment and hearings. Other options include the encouragement of noncommercial children's programming, and more rigorous review of station performance at license-renewal time.
Not surprisingly, the prospect of strict regulation has drawn mixed reactions. "We need rules so that network executives think about children before they think about getting fired," comments ACT's Peggy Charren.
"Change works better out of pressure than regulation," counters Susan Futterman. "What the FCC is trying to do is legislate quality programming. It doesn't happen that way."
At CBS, Bogrow contemplates what strict rules would mean for him and the censors at the other networks. "We would suddenly be confronted with a legal definition of what would fulfill that requirement. We would essentially be the ones to administer that program internally."
He shakes his head, thinking about the proposition. "How much more can you expect from a cathode-ray tube?" he asks.