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The four major broadcast television networks--ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox--drew both praise and skepticism for their announcement late last month that they would voluntarily begin to put warning labels on violent programming.

"This is the dawning of a new era here today,'' said U.S. Rep. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., as network chieftains announced the parental-advisory plan on June 30 in Washington.

The warning, which network officials say will most likely be applied to violent television movies but will not be affixed to cartoons, reads: "Due to some violent content, parental discretion advised.''

Many observers noted that the networks acted in response to a series of recent Congressional hearings on television violence and the suggestion that the government might impose a violence-warning or -rating system. Still, others said the warning plan marks the first time the major networks have officially acknowledged that violent programming may have some influence on societal mayhem.

Some critics of television violence said the action was a good first step, but they noted that parental warnings were of little value if parents aren't home to supervise their children's television viewing.

Preschoolers and parents who don't think they can handle another "Barney & Friends'' rerun can breathe a little easier--new episodes of the Public Broadcasting Service show about a purple dinosaur begin airing Sept. 27.

Kathy Parker, an executive producer of the show, told PBS station executives at their annual meeting in New Orleans last month that 18 new episodes of the half-hour series are being readied.

This season a new dinosaur character will join Barney and his sidekick, Baby Bop. Also this fall, the results of an educational study of the show conducted by researchers at Yale University will be released.

While "Barney'' is entering only its second full season on PBS, "Sesame Street'' begins its 25th this November.

Michael Loman, the new executive producer of the redoubtable children's show, told station officials that the new season will bring several changes.

The "Sesame Street'' set will double in size, and many new Muppets and human characters will join Big Bird, Oscar the Grouch, and the other regulars.

In response to frequent criticisms that "Sesame Street'' lacks female characters, several female Muppets will be added, such as the Squirelles, a singing group with a Motown sound, Mr. Loman said.

The show also will introduce four children into regular roles for the first time.--M.W.

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