Times Staff Writer

Another music video for teens is hardly news, except that the latest entry in the field, "Just Say No," has been made by the federal government.

"This will be a very valuable tool to stop drug abuse," said Margaret M. Heckler, secretary of Health and Human Services, as she introduced the video to Congress at a hearing on the entertainment industry's role in deglamorizing drug abuse.

Heckler told a Senate Government Affairs subcommittee that the video is a "showpiece" of a new phase of her agency's campaign against drug abuse.

The video will be distributed to schools and broadcasters and will be shown on MTV, the 24-hour music channel. It focuses on peer influence and is aimed at inner city youths, a group that Heckler said has not been successfully targeted in earlier programs.

During her appearance, Heckler also touted the value of celebrities who become involved in the nation's fight against drugs. "The celebrity," she said, "is a pace setter."

Gerald McRaney, co-star of "Simon & Simon," said the time has come for Hollywood to use its collective influence to curb the epidemic level of drug misuse. "Sometimes those of us in the entertainment industry fail to realize the impact we have on society," he said.

McRaney, the father of three children, also said it is a popular misconception that the entertainment industry is riddled with drugs. "Many people think celebrities, writers, producers, directors begin and end their days on cocaine," he said.

"This simply is not true," he said. "I've worked on too many shows and with too many people to believe this myth. Stoned people cannot continue to deliver credible performances or write understandable scripts or market usable products."

Both Heckler and McRaney said they were distressed about the increasing availability of and lower prices for cocaine. Heckler said a recent survey showing a decline in alcohol and marijuana use revealed that 6% of all high school seniors use cocaine.

McRaney serves on the board of the Entertainment Industries Council, which is involved in fighting alcohol and drug abuse. He told the subcommittee he is particularly concerned about the growing use of a type of cocaine called "coke-rock" whose street price is as low as $10.

Larry Stewart, representing the Producers, Writers, Directors Caucus, said his organization will recommend that the film industry's rating board adopt a special rating for films that depict alcohol and drug abuse.

"We believe that if misuse or abuse is depicted in a film and no consequences of the act are shown, the film should receive a rating consistent with the ratings awarded to excessive behavior in other areas," Stewart said. He chairs the caucus' drug and alcohol abuse committee.

"It is conceivable that a film depicting drug abuse and offering no consequences for that abuse could receive an 'X' rating on that one point alone," he said.

Another possibility, Stewart said, is that films with objectionable alcohol- or drug-use scenes carry an additional identifying code, such as "SA" (substance abuse) or "D" (drugs). "The youth of this nation are our future stars," said the subcommittee chairman, Sen. William V. Roth Jr. (R-Del), who explained that the hearing was called to focus on "a different kind of Star War, a war waged by the stars."

Roth said he was impressed with the television industry's efforts to deglamorize drugs. He added, however, that "it is not at all clear that the feature film industry has been as responsible as the television industry."

Susan Newman, who heads the Scott Newman Center, urged that all regular TV series include at least one show a year depicting the problems of drugs and possible solutions. The center was founded after her brother died six years ago from an accidental overdose of drugs and alcohol.

Newman, daughter of actor Paul Newman, also said the TV networks should re-evaluate the messages "running rampant in today's television programming."

"There must be a rethinking about the mixed and double messages we are sending viewers," she said. "Positive role models, realistic life situations that aren't miraculously solved in 30 or 60 minutes are a must."

In their testimony, representatives of the three TV networks said that they have made changes throughout their program schedules to reflect increased national concern about drugs and alcohol abuse. The changes have been reflected in news and entertainment shows, as well as public service announcements and made-for-television movies, they said.

As Alfred R. Schneider, ABC's vice president of policies and standards said: "One of the significant contributions our industry can make is to sensitize our viewers to the serious problem of drug abuse and to illustrate the many tragic consequences for individuals, for families and for society at large."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World