The New York Times Company
The New York Times
February 3, 1986, Monday, Late City Final Edition
Section A; Page 1, Column 2; Cultural Desk
HEADLINE: TOY-BASED TV: EFFECTS ON CHILDREN DEBATED
BYLINE: By PETER J. BOYER
programs that feature heroes and villains drawn from the toy-store
shelf or developed in conjunction with the marketing of toys,
once banned by Federal regulations, are booming in the free-market
era of the current Federal Communications Commission.
while the programs have achieved both ratings success and
huge merchandising profits, they have also prompted warnings
from the American Academy of Pediatrics, a Congressional committee
chairman and a consumer group that children are being unfairly
years ago, only one such television show was on the air; currently,
six of the seven animated shows broadcast in New York each
weekday between 3 and 5 P.M., a prime viewing time for children,
are based on toys, among them "Transformers," "G.I.
Joe" and "He-Man and Masters of the Universe."
And at a television trade convention in New Orleans last month,
30 toy-based shows were offered by producers.
profits for such animated series can be large. Mattel's "He-Man"
line of toys, for example, featured in its own television
series, brought in an estimated $350 million in sales last
year. The producers of the show shared in the toy profits,
and the toy company shared in the program's revenues.
toy featured in its own show gains not only publicity, but
also a valuable sales gimmick: a story line that can enhance
the toy's appeal.
American child really needs that story line to help it play,
and one of the ways to do that is with a TV program,"
said Cherie Stawasz, spokesman for Tonka Toys. Tonka makes
"GoBots," a line of robot toys that star in their
own animated series.
according to critics, toy-based shows pose a problem for the
young audience that the shows attract.
sell a product while claiming to be entertainment, and I think
that's unconscionable," said Dr. William H. Dietz, chairman
of the American Academy of Pediatrics' task force on children
and television. The academy has cautioned against such programs.
"If there were a show for adults based on vacuum cleaners,
Hoover vacuum cleaners, it would be boycotted," Dr. Dietz
the shows do is hook kids on these program-length commercials
that in fact offer an engaging story but are designed to sell
the product," he said. "And kids don't know the
difference. It is unfair and deceptive advertising. It is
unethical to do that, in my opinion."
stations do not run paid commercials for a toy within the
program that features that toy as the main characters; Mattel's
G.I. Joe dolls, for example, usually are not advertised within
the "G.I. Joe" program.
maintain that such separation is lost on children, and that
the programs themselves constitute a sales pitch.
Jerome Singer, director of Yale's Family Television Research
and Consultation Center, noted: "Children do not have
the elaborate knowledge that adults have about the nature
of the commercial world, the nature of advertising, the nature
of product appeals. All they know is they see something lively
or exciting and it's natural that they think a toy is something
special because they've seen it on a TV show."
Tremendous Power of TV
Producers argue that their shows do not deceive young consumers.
"I don't think it unfairly exploits kids," said
Peter Temple, vice president of the newly merged Lorimar-Telepictures,
which produces the popular show "Thundercats" and
licenses the characters as toys.
TV mentions anything on the air, good or bad, you are promoting
or commercializing it," he said. "The power of TV
is tremendous. It says, 'This is big, it's neat, it's important,
it's fun.' I don't see what's wrong when people exploit properties
that have value. I don't know why there is all this fuss over
these kids' shows."
Temple, and other producers, maintain that the producers'
incentive is to create popular programming whether it is based
on toys or not. "The lousy shows," he said, "don't
current F.C.C. generally has agreed with that view, ruling
last year that commercial tie-ins on children's programs are
F.C.C.'s position is in line with its philosophy of deregulating
broadcasting, which has included a call for the elimination
of the Fairness Doctrine and the relaxation of license renewals
and regulation of commercials. The posture toward children's
television directly opposes earlier F.C.C. positions.
1969, in a case involving an ABC show based on the Mattel
toy tricycle "Hot Wheels," the F.C.C. found that
the program was "designed primarily to promote the sale
of a sponsor's product, rather than to serve the public by
either entertaining or informing it."
commission banned product-based programs, saying such shows
subordinate "programming in the interest of the public
to programming in the interest of its salability"
current F.C.C., however, holds that the marketplace, not government
regulations, is the broadcaster's proper guide as to what
constitutes the public interest. "The public's interest,"
Mark Fowler, chairman of the F.C.C. has said, "determines
the public interest."
Looks at Regulation
There is a move in Congress to force the F.C.C. back into
the regulation of children's programs.
outrageous that the potential of children's television as
an educational medium has been supplanted by purely commercial
considerations," said Representative Timothy E. Wirth,
chairman of the House telecommunications subcommittee. Mr.
Wirth, Democrat from Colorado, has sponsored a bill in the
House that would, among other things, force broadcasters to
televise a minimum of seven hours of educational programming
Frank Lautenberg, Democrat of New Jersey, has sponsored a
similar bill in the Senate.
is, after all, a precious resource being used, the airwaves,'
' Mr. Lautenberg said. "I have no problems with there
being commercially viable opportunities, but there's a responsibility
to at least let the public have its share of free programming
and not to let them crowd the child's mind with commercials
for one, would like broadcasters to understand that if they
don't do it, there is likely to be oversight. Based on what
we see right now, it doesn't look like they are responding
to their freedom."
aides to both lawmakers admit that children's television is
not considered an urgent issue in Congress just now, and that
the bills may never move through the legislative pipeline.
it approved toy-based programming last year, the F.C.C. noted
that even the respected educational series "Sesame Street"
has been a merchandising wellspring.
Peggy Charren, president of the Massachussetts-based lobbying
group, Action for Children's Television, argues that there
is an important difference.
Street" was developed first as a program, with original
characters and story lines, and the products were drawn from
the programs. But in the disputed programs, the shows are
designed to fit the products - limiting, Mrs. Charren contends,
the creative possibilities of children's programming to the
merchandising needs of toy manufacturers.
Goes Out the Window'
Joseph Barbera, a pioneer in children's animation on television,
developed a number of original characters such as "Yogi
Bear." But last year the marketplace drew his Hanna-Barbera
Productions into toy-based programming with "Challenge
of the GoBots," based on a toy robot.
own creativity starts going out the window," Mr. Barbera
said in an interview. "It's weird. Toy companies have
discovered that there's a market out there. If they have a
toy and a budget, they can move into the television world."
profit potential is great. Gaylord Productions, for example,
is spending $21 million to develop "Galaxy Rangers,"
its first animated series, based on a group of space cowboys.
A "Galaxy Rangers" toy line will be introduced simultaneously
the show is tremendously successful, from all areas of revenue
we could double our money," said Alan Courtney, president
of Gaylord. "We could end up with revenue of $40 million
to $60 million."
the F.C.C. has withdrawn from the spectrum, the number of
independent television stations has burgeoned, more than tripling
since 1972. That has created a demand for syndicated programs
- shows sold directly to stations rather than to a network.
networks, with their relatively cautious broadcast standards
departments, were once the only real outlet for animated children's
shows, syndication has now provided a whole new market for
television producers. Producers essentially "create"
their own networks, selling their shows to a string of independent
stations that are bound together by a variety of exotic deals.
to Make Money
In 1980, virtually all new children's animation was on one
of the three networks on Saturday morning. Now, a much larger
market exists off the networks, where new children's shows
play every weekday.
have never been so many opportunities for making money in
the animation business," wrote Margaret Loesch, president
of Marvel Productions, in a recent trade magazine article.
entry of the toy companies into the programming business has
helped spread the risk. Typically, a toy company will share
the costs of making an animated series (the average cost is
$12 million to $15 million for 65 programs, which run daily
for 13 weeks and then are repeated).
producer makes a deal with a syndicator, who in turn, sells
the show to stations, often on a barter basis. The station
gets the show for no cash, or little cash, and relinquishes
time to the syndicator for sale to advertisers. The syndicator
returns some of that money to the producer, to cover production
the stations, the incentive is low-cost programming, and sometimes
something more. One producer-syndicator, Lorimar-Telepictures,
has offered stations a piece of the toy profits, an incentive
to air its program "Thundercats." The practice is
loudly criticized by Mrs. Charren, and even by others in the
been offered," said Robert H. Friedman, program director
of Channel 5 in New York, "but we feel it's not in the
public interest to share in the revenues from products featured
practice was approved last year by the F.C.C., a fact that
Peter Temple of Lorimar-Telepictures points out to critics.
"I have to remind them that the practice is done with
the F.C.C.'s blessing," Mr. Temple said. "It brings
more product into the marketplace. It's in the public interest
to do it."
January, Action for Children's Television filed another petition
with the F.C.C., requesting that product-based programs be
identified as commercials. "We want station managers,
as well as the F.C.C., to take a hard look at their public-interest
responsibilities and at the program-length ads now masquerading
as children's TV programs," said Mrs. Charren of Action
for Children's Television. "A commercial by any other
name is still a commercial."