"I don't mean to insult anybody," politely announced 9-year-old Angela Coin, as she glanced around the room jammed with nearly 300 television executives, programming directors and children's television advocates.
"But some of the TV shows on today are real dumb. You watch them just to see how much dumber they can get.
There just aren't enought good shows on for kids."
Judging from the laughter and applause that followed, the broadcasters attending last week's Children's TV Conference in Virginia seemed to agree. So, it would appear, did Federal Communications Commission Chairman Charles D. Ferris, who in a conference-opening address lamented the scarcity of network children's programing.
Sponsored by two broadcast trade associations, the three-day conference came at a crucial time for children's television -- one week after comments were due at the FCC on a proposal which could require stations to carry a specific amount of children's programming.
Under the specter of Ferris' assertion that "the FCC is now taking a hard second look at children's television," the broadcasters invited 15 area youngsters age 9-13, to tell them "What Kids Think About Television." The panel was moderated by "Kids Are People, Too" host Michael Young.
"I watch TV almost all the time," admited 13-year-old Melissa Samuels. "When I come home from school I'm tired, so I usually get something to eat and turn on the TV.
"I'm bored, and there's not that much on. All there is is 'Tom and Jerry' hour after hour. On Saturday, I'm usually going swimming so I don't watch TV. And Sunday all there is to watch is a lot of church stuff, and I'm Jewish."
Most of the children said evening hours -- from about 7 to 10 p.m. -- are when they watch most frequently.
"I watch from about 8 to midnight," said Stephen Thomas, 10. "I like the 'Benny Hill Show,' which is on kinda late, because I think it's funny."
"Weekdays I watch from 8 to 9 (p.m.). Then I have to go to bed," said Sheila Langnehs. "I'm usually doing homework in the afternoon, but if there's an afterschool special I'll watch it."
Few of the youngsters said their parents watch with them, or forbid them to watch certain programs.
"I have my own TV, and my parents have theirs," noted Windy Hager. "So they watch in their room, and I'm in mine.But sometimes we watch together."
When modertor Young asked if programs were "more special" when viewed by the whole family, Hager and the other youngsters replied with an emphatic "yes."
"My mother won't let me watch 'Saturday Night Live,'" admitted Dorian Young. "But then she goes to bed, so I watch it anyway."
Commercials, the children agreed, are TV's "biggest bummer."
"You will'll be watching a perfect TV show like 'I Love Lucy,"" sighed Adero Burbridge, 9, "and right in the middle some guy pops up in a sailboat in someone's toilet bowl."
"And commercials always make everything look so much better than it really is," complained Melissa Samuels. "Like in the MacDonald's commercial, you see a Big Mac all puffed up, and then you go to McDonald's and it's all squished down."
Comedy shows seemed to be the favorite. Said Lelani Burbridge: "I like entertaining shows that will make me happy." Programs that combine "learning something" with entertainment also rated high.
"My whole family watches 'Different Strokes' together," said Tracey Williams, "because it usually shows about what can happen in life."
Added Donnell Karimah: "I like shows about people different than yourself, because then you can learn about how other people live."
Peer pressure also seemed to have some effect on viewing. "At first I did not like 'General Hospital,' confessed Lisa Powell. "But all the kids at school watched it, so I forced myself to watch and now I'm hooked."
In response to some audience members' skepticism about the articulate youngsters as a representative sampling, moderator and "kid expert" Young replied, "I think they're a pretty good cross-section, and their tastes in TV are not that different from their friends.'"
The children's remarks also touched on some of the major complaints the FCC has received -- 8,000 informal and 130 formal -- concerning options for increased diversity of children's programs.
"Parent, teacher and other community organizations, as well as the vast majority of individuals writing," said Ferris, "express deep frustration with limited amounts of weekday children's programming.
"They also complain about scheduling that makes it difficult for younger children to watch the network prime-time children's specials that are aired. On the other hand, most industry representatives say existing programming efforts are adequate, or improving."
Ferris chided network officials for failing to use the 7:30 to 8 p.m. prime-time access" period for children's programming. Calling the need for new children's television initiatives "a national commitment," he urged the three major commercial networks to expand their weekday programing for children.
He said the FCC would move toward its "most strident alternative -- a mandatory requirement that each TV station air 5 hours a week of preschool programming and 2 1/2 hours of schoolage programming -- only in a separate second proceeding if we could find no acceptable lesser alternative." Winners and Sinners
Among the best and worst of TV, according to the "expert panel" of young viewers:
Favorite Shows: "The Dukes of Hazzard" and "I Love Lucy."
Worst Show: "Sheriff Lobo."
The Worst Things About TV: Commercials and canned laughter.
Favorite Cartoons: "Old ones" like Bugs Bunny and The Road Runner.
Best Game Show: "Family Feud."
Best Soap Opera: "General Hospital."
Best Children's Shows: "Kids Are People, Too" and "Stuff."
Best Little Kid's Show: "Sesame Street."
Favorite Specials: ABC's Afterschool Specials.