Tuesday, June 18, 2002

TV no prime time for real families

By Lynn Elber
The Associated Press

        Television series paint an unrealistic picture of American families by showing far more single-parent households than exist in society, according to a new study.

        In prime-time TV series, 47 percent of fictional families are headed by married parents, compared to 72 percent of real families, according to the Parents Television Council study.

        Researchers for the nonprofit group compared 2000 U.S. Census figures with data collected on broadcast network prime-time series airing during the 2001-02 season, a total of 119 shows.

        “Sadly, it's trendy in Hollywood to portray a broken family as hip, as a story line,” the group's president, L. Brent Bozell III, said. “Television has the ability to promote the goodness and the health of the nuclear family. It ought to do so.”

        TV series should portray the variety of American life, including functional single-parent families, Mr. Bozell added.

        The study also found that fictional single fathers get a disproportionate amount of air time. Among U.S. families, 6 percent are headed by single dads; the TV figure is 14 percent, more than double.

        There's a smaller discrepancy when it comes to households with single mothers. Twenty-seven percent of TV families are headed by single moms, compared to 22 percent of real families.

        Television apparently is more comfortable with death than divorce: 90 percent of single TV dads are widowers.

        The Parents Television Council took solace in the fact that fathers as well as mothers are prominent on TV. The study found that 83 percent of all children in TV series have some sort of “father figure” in their lives, while 79 percent of TV children have a mother figure.

        “For too long, Hollywood marginalized the vital role fathers play in rearing their children,” said Mr. Bozell. “It's heartening to see the networks place a renewed focus on the importance of father figures.”

        Mr. Bozell said, however, that he'd welcome greater emphasis on the role of men living with their wives and children.

        Channel 9 special: WCPO-TV (Channel 9) concludes a year-long investigation into what many Cincinnati doctors and hospitals call a healthcare crisis with Critical Condition: Cincinnati's Medical Emergency, a prime-time special airing at 8 p.m. today.

        The hour-long program explores how Cincinnati's century-old reputation as a leader in the medical field has deteriorated in the past 10 years, says the station's Robyn Tyndall, an associate producer for this special. Critical Condition also shows how a secret deal between four of the area's largest companies may have led to the loss of many doctors and hurt health care, she says.

        In the documentary, I-Team producer and Channel 9 news reporter Hagit Limor investigates why doctors are leaving Cincinnati for higher pay. The program offers specific solutions proposed by industry leaders, Ms. Tyndall says. Many of the problems Ms. Limor uncovered “have a direct effect on nearly every one in need of medical attention in Greater Cincinnati,” Ms. Tyndall says.

        "Becker'-free future: If you're a co-star of a sitcom, kissing the title character can prove fatal to your series health.

        That's the lesson learned by Terry Farrell, fired from her Becker role after the Monday-night CBS comedy's season finale aired last month. Her character, diner owner Reggie, finally kissed cranky doctor Becker (Ted Danson) after he showed interest in a lively neighbor (Nancy Travis). It was left a cliffhanger at the time, but Ms. Farrell knows the outcome — for her, anyway — since she won't even be returning to wrap up that story line.

        The firing came “completely” as a surprise, Ms. Farrell says. “I've been trying to adjust to the shock of it, quite honestly. It's hard not to take it a little personally, for someone to say, "You did a great job, but we don't need you anymore.' Especially with the last three stories (when Reggie's feelings for Becker intensified), you could only think, "This has to be a really bad joke. After 94 episodes, I don't understand.' ”

        Ms. Farrell claims her dismissal from Becker is unrelated to her not showing up — along with the other supporting players — when work on the series' fourth season began last summer over a contract dispute. “Thankfully, it had nothing to do with any of that.”

        Right now, the actress' life does have a couple of silver linings. The former model and Star Trek: The Next Generation veteran has just gotten engaged to actor Brian Baker (featured in Sprint PCS commercials), and she stars as a high-school basketball coach in the July 15 Lifetime movie Crossing the Line.

        Ms. Farrell considers her time on Becker a growth experience that she hopes will pay off in future acting opportunities: “I was fortunate to have a group of writer-producers, including Dave Hackel and Andy Ackerman, who really let you feel you had permission to fail if you tried things. If something didn't work, it was no big deal. It was a team effort, and I got better and better at having confidence. It taught me a lot.”

       The Enquirer's Ann Hicks and www.Zap2it.com contributed to this report.


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