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TV Shows Are Full-Length Ads, Group Alleges

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Action for Children's Television, a Boston-based advocacy group, last week filed a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission charging that "program-length commercials" which "masquerade" as children's TV programming violate commission regulations.

fcc regulations define program-length commercials as "programs that interweave noncommercial program content so closely with the commercial message that the entire program must be considered commercial."

The children's programs act has called into question, such as ABC's ''Pac-Man," CBS's "Dungeons and Dragons," and NBC's "Smurfs," mix editorial and advertising language so completely that it is impossible to tell the difference, said Peggy Charren, president of the advocacy group.

"In adult TV, we wouldn't stand for it," she said. "We would stop it in five minutes." What if the new series, "Hotel," was "Marriott Hotel," and throughout the entire show, viewers were inundated with references and advertising messages for that hotel chain, Ms. Charren asked. Such a mixture would never be accepted in adult programming, she said, and is just as unacceptable in children's programming.

"Someone has to let broadcasters know that they can't get away with turning children's television into the Big Sell," Ms. Charren asserted at a Washington press conference held by act.

In addition to the networks' Saturday morning programs, Ms. Charren cited six children's television specials or mini-series in syndication that were developed from products: "Care Bears," "The Charmkins," "G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero," "He-Man and the Masters of the Universe," "Herself the Elf," and "Strawberry Shortcake."

Calling these the "tip of the iceberg," Ms. Charren said there were at least eight other products being developed in conjunction with children's television specials or series.

The complaint the group filed with the fcc is based on fcc reg-ulations developed 13 years ago after the manufacturer of Hot Wheels toy cars produced a television program for children called "Hot Wheels," with action centered on Hot Wheels cars. At that time, the commission ruled that programs "designed primarily to promote the sale of a sponsor's product, rather than to serve the public by either entertaining or informing it," were prohibited.

Program-length commercials deprive children of their right to be educated and informed, said Ms. Charren. She predicted that unless the fcc enforces its regulations regarding such programming, "by next year, all children's television will be program-length commercials."

Phyllis Tucker Vinson, NBC's vice president for children's programs, said NBC officials decided to air the "Smurfs" program "because it is good entertainment and because children love the blue creatures." The program, she said, has dealt with serious social topics, such as death and handicaps.

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