Won’t Yield to Attack on Show, Fox Says

Fox Broadcasting officials said Friday that they have no intention of buckling under to a Michigan mother’s one-woman assault on the network’s top-rated television program, “Married . . . With Children.” But still mad as heck and vowing not to take it anymore, Terry Rakolta continued her media blitz here Friday to denounce the racy, wacky series as a lewd, low-standard program.

“I find it very offensive--it exploits women, it stereotypes poor people, it has gratuitous sex in it and very anti-family attitudes,” said the housewife and mother of four children.

Ironically, Rakolta went public with her attack the very week that “Married . . . With Children” achieved the highest ratings ever for a Fox series.

“Even though this one woman thinks we’re doing something bad, 21 million viewers tuned in last week,” said Kevin Wendle, executive vice president of Fox Entertainment. “Twenty-one million people say the show is good.”


Despite Rakolta’s well-publicized complaints, Fox will not ask the program’s producers to tone down the series, Wendle said.

Rakolta’s letter-writing campaign to 45 advertisers, which prompted one company to pull a commercial from the series and several others to have second thoughts about it, landed her on the “CBS Evening News” and ABC’s “Nightline” Thursday night.

She appeared Friday on “CBS This Morning,” ABC’s “Good Morning America” and the syndicated “People Are Talking” and taped an interview for “Entertainment Tonight,” having become an improbable media star.

Rakolta said in a phone interview that she will probably take her campaign later to sponsors of such often-explicit talk shows as those of Morton Downey Jr., Geraldo Rivera and Sally Jessy Raphael.


She also said she is going to Washington in April to confer with two activist groups--the American Family Assn. and Concerned Women of America, both of which describe themselves as being devoted to defending traditional values.

The American Family Assn. until last January was called the National Federation for Decency. It was organized 12 years ago by the Rev. Donald Wildmon, a fundamentalist minister in Tupelo, Miss., and has tried to influence television program content by writing letters to advertisers.

For the time being, however, Rakolta will wage her battle against “Married,” she said. “They’re my real problem, because they’re so blatant.”

Since Rakolta’s complaints became national news this week, Fox spokesman Brad Turell said, letters and phone calls have been pouring in declaring widespread support for the show as it is.

Turell said that only one advertiser has pulled a commercial from the program, and that the series is sold out for the rest of this television season. Last week, he said, “Married . . . With Children” was the top-rated Sunday night show on any network among men and women 18 to 34 years old--a key demographic group for many advertisers.

Rakolta, meanwhile, made public a Jan. 27 letter from Gary Lieberthal, chairman of Columbia Pictures Television, offering “our sincere apology” for an episode of the Columbia-made series that initially outraged her and ultimately touched off her campaign.

His letter said the episode about which she complained “is not typical of the series"--an assertion she challenged Friday.

It is not that one episode was so blatant, she said, but that the whole series “is consistently blatant” with what she considers offensive material.


Rakolta, who said she isn’t calling yet for boycott of the show’s advertisers, said her campaign began the night of Jan. 15, when she saw “Married"--which premiered in 1987--for the first time.

Her kids hadn’t seen it, she said. But had they told her they were going to watch the series, its title probably would have prompted her to say, “Fine, that sounds like a nice family show.”

But when she tuned in, she said, “I couldn’t believe what was going on.” In that episode, women were wearing garter belts and bikini pants and one woman removed her bra for a stranger.

Fox pointed out that no bare breasts were shown; the woman was filmed from behind.

“You see more nudity on ‘Eye on L.A.,’ ” Wendle said.

He conceded, however, that Fox executives thought one scene had gone too far and had asked the producers not to cross that line again. But he vowed that the show will not deviate from its normal standards.

“We review every episode and we are very sensitive to viewers and advertisers,” Wendle said, though he refused to be specific about the kinds of things that would be unacceptable for a Fox show.

“We’ve received more than 60,000 letters about our programming since we started and less than a dozen have ever complained about ‘Married . . . With Children.’ The program is carefully reviewed and, except in that one instance, I think it’s fine for 8:30 p.m.”


Rakolta, who lives in Bloomfield Hills, a wealthy Detroit suburb, said she was up until 4 a.m. that first night, writing what became the first of many letters to sponsors during a seven-week period in which she watched the show.

She made available some of the responses she received.

In one dated Feb. 17, Procter & Gamble, saying it had “limited sponsorship” of the show, said that, like her, “we have become increasingly concerned about the negative portrayal of American family life. As a result, our future buys will focus on other programs.”

The Kimberly-Clark Corp., hearing from her about a Jan. 22 episode, cited its program guidelines, apologized to her and said it has “no plans for further . . . advertising support” of the series.

Tambrands told her that after a review of the series, “we have canceled our participation for the remainder of 1989.”

Coca-Cola USA has said it won’t drop its advertising, but will decide on sponsorship episode by episode. Coca-Cola is the parent corporation of Columbia, which produces the show, and thus actually owns “Married . . . With Children.”

In a Jan. 27 letter, its chairman, Ira C. Herbert, apologized to her for an episode that drew her complaint and said, “I am corporately, professionally and personally embarrassed that one of our commercials appeared in this particularly unsuitable program episode.

“There is no real excuse I can give you, except to say that our system for pre-screening all our TV shows failed in this case.”

Rakolta, whose husband, John, owns a construction company, said she isn’t urging censorship of “Married” but is merely letting its sponsors know her feelings.

Paul Isacsson, executive vice president of the giant Young & Rubicam advertising agency, said Friday that the best way to do that is with the on-off switch.

“If you don’t like the show, don’t watch it,” he said. “That would be far more damaging to the producers and the network that puts that kind of programming on.”

But people who enjoy “Married . . . With Children” have many other alternatives for such fare, including cable TV, Rakolta said. On the other hand, she argued, “Free (over-the-air) TV is the last bastion for the American family, or anybody who wants to see decent programming.”