Science + Technology

Third UCLA Television Report Shows Continuing Decline in Voilence in TV Series, Growth in 'Shockumentary' Specials

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Violence issues in network television continued to decline on TV seriesand stabilized in most other programming, but a new source of intense violence-- "shockumentary" reality-based specials -- has increased dramatically,according to the third annual study of violence on network television conductedby the UCLA Center for Communication Policy.

The UCLA Television Violence Report, published today, found that thenumber of series on the four broadcast television networks that raisedconcerns about violence dropped in the 1996-97 season from the 1995-96and 1994-95 seasons. Violence also declined or remained low in made-for-TVmovies and on-air promotions. At the same time, programs that deal wellwith violent themes continue to represent some of the highest-quality seriesaired on television.

However, problems still remain in eight television series, 12 percentof made-for-TV movies, 30 percent of theatrical films shown on television,and four of the most popular children's programs, which feature "sinistercombat violence." And reality-based specials, which increased fromzero in 1994-95 to 16 in 1996-97, aired some of the most graphic and intensefootage of animal attacks, human deaths, violent accidents and crimes everbroadcast in entertainment programs.

"Overall, the trend is toward less violence on network television,"said Jeffrey Cole, director of the UCLA Center for Communication Policyand author of the Television Violence Report. "The networks have respondedto many of the recommendations in our first two reports. The improvementwe found from 1994-95 to 1995-96 was maintained in 1996-97, and televisionseries continued to improve.

"While the majority of programming deals responsibly with violenceissues, reality-based specials do not," said Cole. "The numberof these violence-filled specials continued to grow during the 1996-97season."

The UCLA Television Violence Study is the most comprehensive and detailedexamination ever conducted of violence in broadcast network televisionprogramming. The UCLA study monitored every network prime time and Saturdaymorning entertainment television program aired during the 1996-97 season-- more than 3,000 hours of programming, including all series, made-for-TVmovies, theatrical films, on-air promotions, specials and advertisementsthat were broadcast on ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC. It also fully monitored thepartial prime-time schedules that aired on the emerging UPN and WB networks.

Unlike previous studies of TV violence, the UCLA project does not simplycount violent incidents; the study analyzes the context of violence --whether violence is appropriate to a broadcast, the consequences of violenceand whether violence is necessary to tell the story or advance the characters.

The study was initiated by former Sen. Paul Simon (D-Ill.), based onan agreement with the four television networks, which funded the project.

Findings of the UCLA Television Violence Study

Television Specials

Television specials, more than any other category of programming, raised"serious new issues of concern" during the 1996-97 season. Thestudy found a growing trend in the broadcast of reality-based action specialsthat featured real and re-created footage of police shootouts, car chasesand crashes, near-death experiences and animals attacking people -- insome cases killing them on the air.

Reality-based specials such as "World's Most Dangerous Animals,""When Animals Attack," "World's Scariest Police Shootouts"and "Video Justice: Crime Caught on Tape" represent the onlytype of network programming in which violence content has steadily worsenedduring the three years of violence monitoring by UCLA.

"During the 1994-95 season, so few violence issues appeared intelevision specials that this type of programming did not even merit itsown section in the first UCLA report," Cole said. "In 1995-96season, the study found five specials that raised concerns, all of whichwere reality shows that featured real and recreated footage of animal attacks.

"We were concerned that these five specials might signal a trend,"Cole said. "That fear was confirmed as television reality specialsfeaturing graphic footage of death and disaster proliferated greatly inintensity and number during the 1996-97 season, increasing to 16 programs,and featuring the same kinds of animal attacks from the 1995-96 season,as well as police shootouts, car chases, and near death experiences.

"While 16 broadcasts do not represent a large number of shows whencompared to an entire season of broadcasts, these specials are highly visiblein network line-ups," Cole said. "Reality-based specials arealso heavily promoted -- and almost always with graphic commercials. Clearly,for the number of reality-based specials to grow from zero to five to 16in three years is a trend that should continue to be monitored."

Television Series

Two of the 107 series that aired during 1996-97 on ABC, CBS, Fox andNBC raised "frequent concerns" about violence -- this comparedwith five series in 1995-96 and nine in 1994-95.

Of the two programs that raised frequent concerns this season, one ("Walker,Texas Ranger") appeared in all three UCLA studies and was renewedfor the 1997-98 season. The other ("Dark Skies") premiered lastyear and was cancelled.

Six series raised "occasional concerns" during 1996-97, comparedto eight in 1995-96 and seven in 1994-95.

Concerns About Violence in Network Television Series

(ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC)

1994-95

Frequent Concerns: 9

Occasional Concerns: 7

Total: 16

1995-96

Frequent Concerns: 5

Occasional Concerns: 8

Total: 13

1996-97

Frequent Concerns: 2

Occasional Concerns: 6

Total: 8

"Many television dramas depict violence responsibly and effectivelyby demonstrating consequences, developing characters, and furthering plotlines," said Cole. "In particular, violence is depicted responsiblyin many of the 10 p.m. dramas, such as ‘Chicago Hope,' ‘E.R.,' ‘Homicide,'‘Law & Order' and ‘NYPD Blue.' This season only a small percentageof television series raised concerns about portrayals of violence."

The UCLA study of the partial broadcast schedules on the still-evolvingUPN and WB networks found that UPN aired two series that raised frequentconcerns about violence during 1996-97 ("The Burning Zone" and"The Sentinel"), down from four series during 1995-96, its firstseason. WB aired one series that raised frequent concerns in 1996-97 ("Buffythe Vampire Slayer"), up from zero the previous year.

Even though UPN and WB aired only partial prime-time schedules on threenights per week, for a combined total of 13 hours in 1996-97, they broadcastmore series with frequent violence concerns (three) than ABC, CBS, Foxand NBC combined. However, neither UPN nor WB aired any series that raisedoccasional concerns about violence.

Children's Television

The number of Saturday morning children's programs that featured sinistercombat violence remained consistent between 1996-97 and 1995-96, with fourprograms in each year in that category -- down from seven programs in 1994-95.These series, still among the most popular children's programs, featurethe dark, malevolent violence that is almost always used as the principalmethod of dealing with problems. They are "Power Rangers (Zeo andTurbo)," "Project G.e.e.K.e.R," "Teenage Mutant NinjaTurtles," and "X-Men."

One of the sinister combat violence programs, "Project G.e.e.K.e.R,"began airing in 1996-97; the others are holdovers. Most shows on Saturdaymorning do not feature intense violence or combat and include, at most,very minor violence.

Theatrical Films

During the first year of the UCLA study, theatrical films on televisionproduced the most concerns about violence of any programming on networktelevision. Violence issues continue to be raised in theatrical films onnetwork television, but the number of violent films has declined sincethe study began. In 1996-97, 34 of 114 theatrical films (30 percent) ontelevision raised concerns about the use of violence, compared to 33 of113 (29 percent) in 1995-96. In 1994-95, 50 of 118 theatrical films (42percent) produced violence concerns.

The study found that of the 34 theatrical films that raised violenceconcerns in 1996-97, only 15 were first airings; the remaining 19 filmswere repeats of network acquisitions from previous years.

While several films contained more than 30 scenes of violence, the numberhas declined from the first two years of the study. However, while thepercentage of theatrical films raising concerns about violence has decreasedfrom the first season of the study, theatricals still contain some of themost intense violence on television.

On-Air Promotions

During the first three years of the UCLA study, the use of violencein on-air promotions improved more than in any other category of televisionprogramming. Networks created new policies and hired new personnel to dealwith promotions, previews, teasers and advertisements. In 1996-97, relativelyfew on-air promotions contained only scenes of violence from a televisionseries.

The broadcast of violent theatrical films shown on television continuedto inspire promotions that featured violence and action, but they containedfewer scenes of violence and were almost never shown during programs orin time periods that would draw large audiences of children. Violence inadvertisements for films about to open in theaters -- a problem addressedin the 1995-96 report -- declined during 1996-97.

The only growing problem in on-air promotions in 1996-97 concerned advertisementsfor the reality-based specials. Not surprisingly, these promotions containedmany scenes from the programs, including animal violence, accidents, disastersand crimes.

Made-for-TV Movies

Over the first three years of the UCLA study, television movies haveproduced relatively few violence problems. In 1996-97, 12% of made-for-TVmovies raised concerns about violence, up slightly from 10% in 1995-96but still below 14% in 1994-95. Made-for TV movies that raised concernsusually did so because of a variety of factors, such as violent themesor sheer volume of violence or graphic scenes.

* * * * * * * *

The UCLA Study: Exploring Violence in Context

"Studying violence in context is the key to this study," Colesaid. "Violence can be an important part of story-telling. While parents,critics and others complain about the problem of violence on television,the mere presence of violence is not the problem. If V-chips or other methodssimply did away with violent scenes or programs, television viewers mightnever see a historical drama such as ‘Roots' or outstanding theatricalfilms such as ‘Schindler's List,' ‘Beauty and the Beast,' ‘The Lion King,'or ‘Forrest Gump.'

"In many cases, the use of violence may be critical to a storythat actually sends an anti-violence message. Many important stories, suchas ‘Hamlet,' the history of World War II, or the life of Abraham Lincoln,would be impossible to convey without violence.

"What does concern parents is programming that sends the messagethat violent behavior does not have consequences or goes unpunished, orimages that are more graphic and disturbing than the story requires,"Cole said. "Parents also question programs that glorify violence orteach that violence is always the way to resolve conflict.

"Parents know that violence can be instructive in teaching theirchildren important lessons about life," Cole said. "What parentswould do if they could preview all content for their children is removeor modify the inappropriate or improper uses of violence. The consequencesof violence should be shown, and people using violence inappropriatelyshould be punished. When violence is used realistically, it should accuratelyportray the consequences, and its depictions should not be sanitized."

A key element of the UCLA project involves working directly with thenetworks over the course of the year to review findings and implement recommendations.UCLA's exploration of violence on network television will continue as partof a broader study of television that will begin with the 1997-98 season.

The UCLA Center for Communication Policy is a forum for the discussionand development of policy that addresses the leading issues in media andcommunications.

Order Information

The UCLA Television Violence Monitoring Report is available for $14plus $5 shipping and handling. California residents add 8.25 percent tax.

Books can be ordered by check, credit card, or purchase order by callingthe UCLA Store, (310) 206-4041. Fax orders to (310) 825-0382; e-mail ordersshould be sent to bookzone@asucla.ucla.edu. Mail book orders to UCLA BookZone, 308 Westwood Plaza, Los Angeles, CA 90024-1645.

The full text of the report can be downloaded from the Web Site of theUCLA Center for Communications Policy, http://www-ccp.sppsr.ucla.edu.

To contact the UCLA Center for Communication Policy, send e-mail tocommpol@ucla.edu, or write to CCP, UCLA, P.O. Box 951586, Los Angeles,CA 90095-1586.

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