Parents, it's 4 p.m. - do you know what your children are watching?
That's an important question these days in the Salt Lake City area, where the 4-5 p.m. time period - once considered prime time for youngsters - is becoming home for some of the raciest shows on television.Two years ago young viewers could hurry home from school, grab a snack and get their homework done by 4 so they could watch "The Wonderful World of Disney" on KSL, "Diff'rent Strokes" reruns on KTVX or "Ghostbusters" on KSTU. There was also reliable PBS children's fare like "3-2-1 Contact" on KBYU and "Sesame Street" on KUED. KUTV's "The People's Court" was the lone program that one could consider as an alternative for adults in the time period.
The hour will have a much different look, however, when the local commercial television schedules are in place come October. KUTV will continue its adult-oriented philosophy with the sensational, sometimes explicit "Donahue." KTVX will counter with an hour of off-network sitcoms, the relatively tame "Family Ties" and the occasionally raunchy "Night Court." KSL will go with "Win, Lose or Draw" and "M*A*S*H," both of which can be pretty naughty.
Now the only youth-oriented programs available over the air are on PBS and KSTU, and even some of them are suspect. While no one can say anything bad about "Sesame Street," it's only designed to appeal to pre-schoolers and early elementary students. "3-2-1 Contact," "Square One TV" and "Newton's Apple" are all excellent, but let's be honest - most kids aren't looking for another half-hour of school after school.
That pretty much leaves KSTU's "Duck Tales" and "Double Dare" as the options of choice for most kids, which is great news for KSTU. But it doesn't say much for the market when the most attractive programs available for children just home from school are a cartoon series that is at best a poor relation to the Disney classics and a game show that specializes in making kids wade through chocolate pudding and dive into vats of Jell-O.
Of course, the reality is that many of the youngsters watching TV at that hour will choose instead to watch the likes of "Donahue" and "Night Court." And if you don't think that's a little frightening, consider these actual program descriptions from the past few weeks of "Donahue": "The First Time: How Contemporary Americans Lose Their Virginity"; "Sexual Encounters Between Teen-Age Boys and Women"; "Male Centerfolds"; and "Moving in With an Ex-Husband and His Spouse."
Great family stuff, huh?
Now, I'm not questioning the right of the local stations to show these programs - tabloid-slick and exploitive though they may be. But I do question the decision by programmers to fill the airwaves with such fare during an hour when TV sets in many Utah homes are controlled by children. It just doesn't strike me as responsible.
If you agree, you might want to drop a line to KUTV's Maria Smith, KTVX's Gordon Acker or KSL's David Manookin and tell them so. And if you disagree, drop a line to me and tell me I'm all wet. (Only do it after you're through watching "Donahue." I wouldn't want you to get me confused with one of those male centerfolds.)