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Cos. To Bankroll Family-Friendly TV

August 12, 1999

NEW YORK (AP) _ Eleven major advertisers who say there aren’t enough wholesome television programs are putting their money behind a small effort to change things.

The advertisers, including Procter & Gamble, General Motors, IBM and Sears, said Wednesday they will pay to have writers develop family-friendly scripts for consideration by the WB network.

Heading into a season where broadcasters plan to push the envelope with bawdy language and sex references in an attempt to lure young viewers, the advertisers say there are fewer prime-time programs where they feel comfortable selling products.

``We want to encourage responsible entertainment, and the programming that is available between the hours of 8 and 10 p.m. is not as family-friendly as we would like it to be,″ said Kaki Hinton, director of advertising services at the drug and consumer products maker Warner-Lambert Co.

The advertisers won’t say how much money they are committing. But it generally costs between $60,000 and $90,000 to come up with a script, and they’ve agreed to bankroll at least eight. The WB will supervise the development and decide which scripts, if any, will go into production.

These advertisers have approached all of the broadcast networks with their concerns, but the WB came up with the most specific idea, said Andrea Alstrup, vice president of advertising at Johnson & Johnson.

Many of Hollywood’s creative people recoil from the idea of family-friendly shows, conceded Jordan Levin, executive vice president of programming for the WB. Such firm support from a group of advertisers will make more writers interested, he said.

The WB’s highest-rated show is ``7th Heaven,″ about a minister raising a family. But the network’s stock in trade is teen-oriented, sex-obsessed dramas like ``Dawson’s Creek,″ whose success has encouraged other networks to relentlessly go after young viewers.

While ``7th Heaven″ draws many teen viewers, most television executives say family-oriented shows usually appeal to older viewers that the bulk of advertisers don’t desire.

``I’m confused as a viewer as to what the advertisers really want,″ said Dorothy Swanson, founder of Viewers for Quality Television.

The advertising group funding the new programs say they want a better balance of programming. ``We’re not saying the other stuff should go away,″ said Gretchen Briscoe, a spokeswoman for Procter & Gamble, ``we’re just saying we need more options.″

Although television networks frequently take their cues from major advertisers about what programs are acceptable, Swanson said she was concerned that the WB may be giving away too much of its authority as programmers.

``I don’t believe they’re going to be intrusive,″ Levin said. ``We don’t tell them how to do their jobs and they don’t tell us how to do our jobs.″

Alstrup said the advertisers ``don’t plan to become production arms for the networks. What we are really trying to do is raise the level of awareness and encourage the writers.″

Ameritech, AT&T, Nationwide Insurance, Pfizer and Wendy’s International are also contributing to the scripts.

For the WB, the deal gives financial help to what is often the least cost-effective functions of a network. Networks routinely pay millions of dollars to write and produce prospective shows that never get on the air or are quickly canceled.

Levin said he expected one or two of the scripts will make it on the air, although not until next fall.

The advertisers are coming up with other ways to advance their agenda, including sponsoring a page in TV Guide each week to steer viewers to family programming. They will also host an awards luncheon in Los Angeles next month for family-friendly shows.

``We didn’t feel there were enough programs out there to warrant a dinner,″ Alstrup said.

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