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No-show Studio Execs Earn Ire Of Congress

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The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,

But in ourselves…

Cassius speaks the words in Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar," as they stand outside the Roman senate. Both Brutus and Cassius later commit violence, killing Caesar, and then die themselves.

The words, last week, could have come from heads of Hollywood's studios. The U.S. Senate had called them to testify, and to fault them—not their stars—for marketing violent films to America's youth.

But the execs didn't show. And they probably felt like dying themselves when they got word of the politicians' responses: a range of proposals from efforts to end movie ad tax breaks to a legal review of the industry's marketing system.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), erstwhile presidential candidate, still reins as chairman of the powerful Senate Commerce Committee. He had invited the execs—twice—to testify voluntarily. When they didn't appear, McCain, considering them not to be honorable men, opened the gates for any senators to leap with him into the angry flood.

"This is a sad commentary on corporate responsibility," McCain said in his own words, not Shakespeare's, "and an affront to American families whose children are so squarely in the crosshairs of hundreds of millions of dollars in movie violence advertising."

First, McCain said he would approve of any legislation restricting television's violent programming to late-night hours.

Sen. John Breaux (D-La.) thought it would be a great idea to scrap the industry's advertising tax exemption should studios market adult entertainment to America's youth.

Then McCain, with a lean and hungry look, ordered three to be the charm, strongly urging the execs to appear before the committee next week.

The Caesar of the Senate, the majority leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.), then tried to chariot legislation through, which would require a uniform ratings system for all entertainment products. But the Democrats' honorable man, the minority leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) dewheeled the idea before it could get rolling.

Meanwhile Senate Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), another erstwhile presidential candidate, wanting to be constant as the northern star with his fellows, scheduled a hearing on marketing violent entertainment to youth.

The whole drama arises from President Clinton who—knowing that the evil that men do lives after them—mandated the Federal Trade Commission to study the marketing of violent films, music and video games to young people. The FTC released the study results earlier this month, saying that the film, music, and vid-game industries, indeed, do market adult fare to the young. The FTC added that the industry should better regulate itself.

But Vice President Al Gore, a presidential candidate hoping to be the choice and master spirit of this age, followed the report's release by saying that he would make sure—if elected—that the industry would face "tougher measures" under current advertising laws if it didn't shape up.

The Republicans promptly responded to Gore's effort, condemning his connection to Harvey Weinstein, whose Miramax has distributed such violent films as "Reservoir Dogs" and "Pulp Fiction." Weinstein helped organized a major Democratic National Committee fundraiser for Gore and his running mate, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, last weekend in New York. A number of stars, including Michael Douglas and Julia Roberts, also co-hosted.

Meanwhile, not wishing to be outdone by the Senate, the Federal Communications Commission proposed to limit ads during children's TV programs.

The Directors Guild of America also sallied into the fray last week. In perhaps the most unkindest cut of all to the studio execs, the DGA proposed a complete revision of the film ratings system.

So now, the ball is in the studio execs' court, who perhaps now are huddled together, quoting from "Julius Caesar":

We must take the current when it serves,

Or lose our ventures.

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