"On Television: The Violence Factor" makes an appropriate curtain-raiser for the most violent television season in a decade. The report, at 10 tonight on Channel 26, is a cluttered mess of extraneous material and comments from experts with wildly varying credentials, but it raises points about TV and violence especially relevant in this autumn of our "Hunter," our "Hot Pursuit" and our "Hawaiian Heat."
Mary Megee, the producer and writer, inscrutably thought it necessary to consult not only countless persons-on-the-street, whose views are just so much decoration, but also such dubious authorities on the subject of media effects as actresses Ann Jillian and Jayne Meadows and actors Charlton Heston, Dick Van Patten and even Adam ("Batman") West. Including such material is an insult to the real experts on hand -- among them George Gerbner of the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. George Comstock of Syracuse University, Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, and Peggy Charren, president of Action for Children's Television.
A causal link between the viewing of violent television and aggressive behavior in real life has now been conclusively established (only network-hired shrinks and network-funded studies disagree), so arguing this point in the program wastes time. Fortunately, it goes on to other related facets of the problem: that heavy viewing of violent TV can heighten fears about the dangers of the real world; that TV comedy about drugs and drug-taking contribute to a climate conducive to drug abuse and violent crime; that glorification of reckless driving on shows like "Knight Rider" and "The Dukes of Hazzard" may promote real-life traffic accidents; that the gun is portrayed in program after program as society's proper problem-solver.
While the producers seem to deplore the use of gratuitous violence as a cheap way of diverting an audience, they commit this sin themselves. They move Gerbner down to a small corner of the screen and in the upper corner show violent acts from TV shows as he talks. This is not illustration; it's bad production. The producers seem just as desperate to provide a steady stream of kicky visual punch lines as do the producers of "The A-Team," but at least the producers of "The A-Team" are not hypocrites.
Of course, one can only expect so much of a documentary that lists a "project philosopher" in its closing credits.
Among those contributing on camera -- usually in brief, sometimes crudely edited snippets -- are NBC chairman Grant Tinker, "A-Team" creator Stephen J. Cannell, and, via a those-were-the-days film clip, former senator John O. Pastore (D-R.I.), a giant in the history of attempts by Congress to intimidate the networks. These attempts invariably fail, though the good fight is carried on by the likes of Rep. Timothy Wirth (D-Colo.), who is also seen on the program.
Host Edwin Newman makes only the slightest mention of that Reagan-bred pestilence called deregulation and the promise it holds for taking broadcasting even further away from any kind of public control and, surely, social responsibility. FCC Chairman Mark S. Fowler, the James Watt of telecommunications, believes the marketplace, which beams night after night of beatings and killings into American homes, is a holy entity never to be challenged with so spurious a concept as the public good. The program ends with helpful hints for viewers who are concerned about the problem. It should admit there is no hope for reform as the system now stands.