In the wake of a fatal blaze set by a 5-year-old fan of "Beavis and Butt-head," MTV said Wednesday it will delete all references to fire in the weeknight cartoon series.
But the cable channel emphasized that it did not believe the 7-month-old series was responsible for the tragedy in which a 2-year-old girl was killed. "Nevertheless, we have decided to bend over backwards as responsible programmers," Carole Robinson, senior vice president, said in a prepared statement.
The action was prompted by an incident in Moraine, Ohio, last week when the girl's 5-year-old brother set his bed on fire with a cigarette lighter. Afterward, the children's mother told fire fighters that the boy had been inspired by the 14-year-old characters on "Beavis and Butt-head," who proclaim that "fire is cool" and often talk about burning things.
"When you take a child in the formative years and you get these cartoon characters saying it's fun to play with fire . . . this is going to stick in that kid's mind and it's going to be with him for a long time," said Moraine Fire Chief Harold Sigler. Last August, the fire chief in Sidney, Ohio, blamed MTV's cartoon for a house fire started by three girls.
" 'Beavis and Butt-head' is made for teen-agers and young adults, who make up the overwhelming majority of its audience," MTV's Robinson said. "These viewers see the cartoon for what it is--an exaggerated parody of two teen-age misfits whose antics take place in a cartoon world, antics they know are obviously unacceptable and not to be emulated in real life."
"While we do not believe the 'Beavis and Butt-head' cartoon was responsible," she said, "we feel the steps we are taking are the proper ones."
Robinson noted that MTV already had made modifications in the series after complaints that the dense, low-achieving characters were engaging in behavior that many parents found objectionable, such as sniffing paint thinner and hurting animals.
The question of responsibility in the Ohio fire earlier had prompted MTV to pull a new episode of the series that had been scheduled for last Monday, in which President Clinton was depicted. An MTV spokeswoman explained Wednesday that the network didn't want to drag him into the controversy. The episode will run next week, she said.
"Beavis and Butt-head" airs weeknights at 7 and 11 p.m. Critics of the series--and even some supporters--have questioned the appropriateness of the earlier time slot, when younger viewers are able to tune in. Even Mike Judge, the show's creator, has said he envisioned "Beavis and Butt-head" as an 11 p.m. program.
The MTV spokeswoman said Wednesday that there were no plans to change the air times.