JUST WHEN the wailing and hand-wringing on both sides was reaching absurd dimensions, the Coalition for Better Television has declared victory and called off a threatened boycott of sponsors of TV shows it considers offensive. It's quite a coup, really -- coming as it does before any true ratings of the coalition's show might reveal less than meets the network eye in terms of serious economic muscle. The coalition, of which the Moral Majority is a key supporter, apparently is satisfield that enough sponsors are shaking in their socks at the prospect of a boycott that they're getting religion, so to speak, and steering clear of shows that seem to contain excessive sex and/or violence.
As they say in the industry, we'll see. But clearly the threat brought some results. Procter & Gamble, television's largest advertiser, has withdrawn sponsorship from 50 shows it believed contained excessive sex and violence; and coalition chairman Donald E. Wildmon claims that other advertisers have withdrawn support from TV shows, and that networks have been unable to get full advertising revenues for some shows because of sponsor withdrawals. Is this "censorship," as some network executives have term it?
The idea that some group with ideas that other people consider bad, weird, prudish or otherwise off the mark couid dictate what does or doesn't get on the air -- or even that a sponsor could assume total control, say, of the content of network news shows -- is disturbing, no question. But when is a situation ever that stark? To begin with, there is nothing anti-democratic or evil a lawful, orderly, dignified call for a boycott.
Second, any network worth its initials should have the fortitude an integrity not to let every coalition that comes along with a gruff word dictate what goes or doesn't go on the home screens. Similarly, no sponsor should have line-by-line review of every script. Obviously a sponsor can drop its participation and thereby kill a program; but here again, advertising agencies and their clients should try to know what they're doing before caving in to every group-growl they hear.
We confess to more than a passing interest in advertisers, of course, and while we're at it, in television broadcasting. The balance of these interests, along with the likes and dislikes of readers and viewers, is at once fascinating and imperfect, since they are so interdependent. But the relationships do have a way of working -- and if what you see is more to your liking, so much the better.