ABC, CBS, Fox, the WB and UPN, plus the major cable networks agreed to add a series of letters to the seven-month-old system of rating programs by age-appropriateness.
So now, in addition to TV-G (general audience), TV-PG (parental guidance suggested), TV-14 (parents strongly cautioned), TV-MA (mature audiences), TV-Y (suitable for all children) and TV-Y7 (for older children), we will also have V for violence, S for sexual situations, L for adult language and D for sexually-suggestive dialogue. The TV-Y and TV-Y7 categories will be garnished with FV for fantasy violence, such as cartoon mayhem. As under the old system, the networks will rate their own shows. The new ratings will start no later than October 1.
Starting in 1998, The TV ratings will work in conjunction with a V-chip, a device inside the set which will automatically block programs not suitable for children, at the parent's discretion. Some manufacturers are already selling set-top screening gizmos.
NBC refused to go along with the deal, saying it would stick with the current system but add some "program-specific advisories" when needed. "There is no place for government involvement in what people watch on television," said a statement from the most-watched network, which also called the deal "a brokered arrangement...under the threat of government intervention."
The directors, writers and actors guilds denounced the new system, too, in a joint statement, calling it a "threat...to the creative rights and responsibilities of our members." The guilds intimated they might take the issue to court on First Amendment grounds.
But members of Congress who pushed the deal insisted that there is no hidden agenda to affect the content of network shows. "There is no program that is going to be taken off the air," said Representative Ed Markey, the Massachusetts Democrat who first proposed the V-chip. "There is no word or scene that is going to be banned."
Faced with criticism from both Capitol Hill and a range of lobby groups (including the AMA and the PTA), plus the start next week of a review of the ratings issue by the Federal Communications Commission, the networks started negotiating on a new system which would add more detail to the ratings. The big concession they won: a pledge by key members of Congress to lay off new legislation on TV programming for "several years," as the statement from the Industry says (reportedly, three).
The ratings issue won't necessarily go away now. A group called Morality in Media said the new ratings system "still does not provide parents with enough information about the kinds of sex, vulgarity or violence that earned the rating."
How about GD for "gay-sexually-suggestive dialogue" or HAV for "violence committed by humans against animals"?