Culture Notes


Issue: "Stealth Bible," March 29, 1997


TV industry executives are now considering adding content descriptions to their system of rating programs. Under pressure from almost all sides, the networks are also facing congressional bills to force the changes. The bills were authored not by conservative Republicans or the religious right but by two Democrats, Rep. Edward Markey of Massachusetts and Sen. Ernest Hollings of South Carolina. According to the proposed revision of the system, the age breakdowns would remain, but to them would be added the letters V, S, and L for violence, sex, and bad language. Thus, the raunchy dialogue of Friends might earn it a TV PG-S, while the more graphically explicit NYPD Blue might score a TV 14-S. The slapstick violence of The Simpsons might rate a TV PG-V, while a Stephen King made-for-TV-movie might rate a TV 14-S. Networks had previously refused to change the system, and spokesmen caution that this new approach is only being studied and may not be implemented. One faction of the network executives is adamantly opposed to any kind of content-based rating, fearing that it would drive away advertisers, and have threatened to sue the government on First Amendment grounds if Congress passes laws to force the change. In the meantime, Hollywood rating czar Jack Valenti has agreed to one change: The rating logo will remain on the screen for longer than the current 15 seconds.

No longer a guy thing

The Vienna Philharmonic, whose American tour had been disrupted by protests, has, like nearly every other institution, caved in to the demands of feminists. The group, considered the greatest orchestra in the world, has abandoned its 155-year-old tradition and admitted a woman, a harpist. There are now no more all-male major orchestras.

Past vs. present

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Inspired by the success of the Star Wars recycling, Hollywood studios have now re-released two genuine movie classics: Alfred Hitchcock's 1958 masterpiece Vertigo, starring Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak, and the 1945 hard-boiled detective mystery The Big Sleep, starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. It will be most interesting to see how these real stars measure up against Hollywood's current crop of pretty faces.

Smell the coffee

Michael Jackson does not drink the Pepsi he advertises, WORLD reported, because he has religious objections to caffeine. We tied the practice to the Jehovah's Witnesses, the cult with which Mr. Jackson at one time was reported to have been affiliated. Alert readers, veterans of witness sessions with Jehovah's Witness missionaries over coffee, pointed out that the group has no such restriction. Mr. Jackson's theology, like much of his life, appears to be idiosyncratic.

Look out, Seinfeld and Friends; you're about to be Touched

One of the few TV-G programs in prime time, Touched by an Angel, a project from Christian producer Martha Williamson, was the third most watched program in the country during a recent ratings period, behind Seinfeld and just percentage points behind Friends. This made it the highest rated drama and gave CBS a rare victory in the ratings wars. The program had a 16.6 Nielsen rating, with each point representing 970,000 households. This means that more than 16 million viewers tuned in to watch angels played by Della Reese, Roma Downey, and John Dye solve people's problems in what are often Bible-based Christian ways. "It just keeps building every week," commented CBS executive Michael Silver.


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