TV REVIEW : A & E’s ‘Violence’ Probes With Depth

“Prime Time Violence,” the latest editiE’s “Investigative Reports,” definitively proves that television can’t help report on television violence without showing the thing that it’s reporting about--and in prime time.

Thus, an unintended irony of a report on the effect of TV violence on children has generous, blood-splattered clips from HBO’s “Tales of the Crypt” (which airs after most kids have gone to bed) beamed into households when kids can see it. Surely the good Rev. Billy A. Melvin, Christian organizer of TV boycotting campaigns, never imagined that his concerns about graphic TV violence would be coupled with one of the “Crypt” characters losing major body parts.

Despite this Bill Kurtis-hosted program succumbing to a major case of cognitive dissonance, “Prime Time Violence” really does explore the burning issue in some depth. Why it’s hot now, why it’s triggered legislative threats of monitoring from Sen. Paul Simon (D-Ill.) and Atty. Gen. Janet Reno’s stern Big Brother-like warnings of government censorship, raises its own questions. (CBS Broadcast Group President Howard Stringer says TV controls are politically easier than gun control: “Beat up on the NRA and the money goes away.”)

Yet the concerns of critics like Simon and Melvin, particularly those addressing the glamorization of violence, are never going to be answered with “Law & Order” creator Dick Wolf’s familiar and phony remark that Greek tragedy and Shakespeare are more violent than prime time. Even though the TV industry succumbed in February to congressional pressure and agreed to such self-monitoring measures as a ratings system, an annual “violence report card” and development of the so-called “V chip” for parents to electronically delete violent programs from the screen, the war of words is far from over.


The debate here conclusively demonstrates this, ranging from Simon’s good cop style of government watchman to actor Michael Moriarty’s scorching attacks on Reno (“It’s the KGB”) to film critic Gene Siskel’s sensible joint concerns about government control and parents’ needs to monitor their kids’ viewing habits.

Because, reminds Peggy Charren of Action for Children’s Television, it really comes down to kids and their impressionable minds. If parents don’t do the job, Big Brother may do it for them.