If Ted Turner, the vice chairman of Time Warner, can't stop Fine Line, a subsidiary of his own empire, from releasing the sex-and-gore movie Crash--then who exactly is in charge in this country?

Turner lamented his own powerlessness yesterday during a panel discussion with other media heavies at Loyola University in New Orleans. It was taped for simulcast on 10 cable networks on April 7. The topic: "The American Family and Television"

Topic A, of course, was violence, sex and content ratings for the tube. CBS Entertainment president Leslie Moonves said "the social good that TV does far outweights the bad, and we never get credit for that."

There simply isn't gratuitous violence on network TV, Moonves added, noting that, "Not a single person has been shot on camera since NYPD Blue started."

Turner chimed in that the new ratings ought to get a full year of trial. But it was his rant about violence--on and off the big and small screen--that will make the best television when all this airs.

In Turner's synopsis, Crash "is about young people who get their sexual kind of thrills by getting into car crashes. It's just the worst piece of garbage I ever saw in my life. I guess there are just a lot of sickies out there. You just can't get too sick for these people. Slice 'em and dice 'em and cannibalism and all kinds of abuse."

"You can say what you want. People just like to watch violence. They love to watch the news and see murder after murder. Then they turn on Fox and watch specials where animals commit violence against people"--a dig at Ted's archrival Rupert Murdoch.

"They just love to watch shows where people will be killed," he continued. "Then they slow down on the freeway and look over to see blood. I don't know what the hell's wrong with us, quite frankly.

"And the truth is, a lot of the most violent programs are theatrical movies. A lot of those are made and sold that shouldn't be. That disturbs my sense of responsibility."

He said, however, that others inside Time Warner had overruled his objections to Crash. It opens Friday.

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