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Jewish World Review /Feb 1, 1999 /15 Shevat, 5759

Cal Thomas

Cal Thomas NBC gets the message;
is CBS missing it?

(JWR) --- (http://www.jewishworldreview.com) AFTER YEARS OF PROTESTS over too much sex on television, a glimmer of hope is visible atop the crown of NBC's peacock. Scott Sassa, who is in charge of the networks' prime-time programming, says in the future NBC will have less sex, more traditional families (meaning a man and a woman who are married to each other, for those who have forgotten or never knew), more minorities and locations outside of New York City.

Sassa said that, while he is not trying to "create the Family Channel here'' (implying that is a bad thing), "It's about balance.'' So "Friends'' will continue to feature musical beds, but people hungry for what used to be considered normal before abnormal became the norm will now be able to see programs in which "bed'' is treated as a noun and not a verb.

The peacock has taken
its head out of the sand
NBC has lost nearly one-fifth of its viewers this season and has fallen to second place behind CBS. For years viewers have complained about content, while out-of-touch network executives believed the reason fewer are watching is because they are not getting enough sex, gratuitous violence and profanity. The success of shows like "Touched by an Angel'' on CBS (always in the top 10 and a few weeks ago it finished first), the Family Channel and the new PAX network, which achieved its ratings goal for the end of its first year in the first week, clearly signaled NBC that growing numbers of people have redefined "must-see TV.''

While NBC is seeing some light, CBS has put its successful "Promised Land'' show on a nine-week hiatus to try out a series called "Turks.'' One TV magazine described the premiere episode this way: "In Chicago, a veteran police officer and his close-knit family face day-to-day struggles.'' CBS promises that "Promised Land'' will return on March 12, but why the hiatus in the first place since "Promised Land'' forthrightly deals with a close-knit family and addresses such hot topics as race and sex in a positive and redemptive fashion?

It's because of who watches, not how many watch. The networks say advertisers like younger audiences (ages 18-39) because they believe they can switch their product preferences more easily than older audiences (ages 40 and over).

Dick Guttman, the publicist for "Promised Land,'' says a two-hour episode two weeks ago finished 32nd out of 120 shows and was ahead of shows referred to as hits, including "X-Files'' (No. 39), "Third Rock From the Sun'' (No. 49), "Chicago Hope'' (No. 53), "Suddenly Susan'' (No. 62), "Melrose Place'' (No. 76) and "Mad About You'' (No. 80). Because these lower-rated shows attract younger viewers, advertisers will pay more.

Guttman believes advertisers are wrong. "Younger people have less discretionary money than older people,'' he says. "Younger people buy beer and go to movies and not as many buy bigger ticket items like refrigerators as people 40 and over do.'' Besides, he says, "Promised Land'' deals with issues parents want to discuss with their children, especially after daily doses of news about oral sex in the White House. He notes that advertisers used to build loyalty to their brands by sponsoring entire shows. Jell-O sponsored Jack Benny and Hotpoint sponsored "Ozzie and Harriet.''

"Promised Land,'' a favorite of mine, has changed in recent months. Martha Williamson, the executive producer, has settled the nomadic Greene family in Denver in an integrated neighborhood. Scripts portray black-white tensions honestly, and deep-seated racial feelings are explored and resolved in a believable, compelling and entertaining way.

Others shows have been promised comebacks after a hiatus and not made it. Perhaps "Promised Land'' will return. But to make sure, people who still believe television can be a force for good should write to CBS President Leslie Moonves, 7800 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90036, thanking him for his support of "Touched by an Angel'' and asking that his promise to "Promised Land'' not be broken. Then they need to recruit their children and other young people to watch the show and patronize and write the sponsors. "Promised Land'' good for CBS and good for our country.


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©1998, Los Angeles Times Syndicate, Inc.