The New York Times (Newspaper):
Front Page Article about MwC
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The New York Times, March 2, 1989
[This article spanned over two pages - the front page, then continuing inside. A picture includes the
caption: "Terry Rakolta of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., has persuaded several advertisers to withdraw
commercials from the Fox television show "Married ... With Children."]
A Mother Is Heard as Sponsors Abandon a TV Hit
A one-woman campaign by an angry Michigan woman has prompted several of the nation's largest advertisers
to cancel commercials on the Fox Broadcasting Company's top-rated series and to review their television
Procter & Gamble, McDonalds, Tambrands and Kimberly-Clark have instructed their advertising agencies not
to buy further time on the program "Married ... With Children." The situation comedy depicts the daily
tribulations of the Bundys, a blue-collar family that vents its frustration with what critics have called
lacerating and frequently lewd humor.
In an interview the Michigan woman, Terry Rakolta, said she had objected to the program because of its
"blatant exploitation of women and sex and anti-family attitudes."
The president of Coca-Cola USA, Ira C. Herbert, apologized in a letter to Mrs. Rakolta for running a
commercial during the program, saying he was "corporately, professionally and personally embarrassed"
that an advertisement for Coca-Cola had appeared.
Coca-Cola and several other companies said they would change their procedures for screening programs on
which they advertise, largely in response to the letters by Mrs. Rakolta, who lives in Bloomfield Hills,
a wealthy suburb in Detroit. Johnson & Johnson and American Home Products had already decided not to
advertise on the show.
The cancellation of commercials reflects the growing sensitivity of television advertisers to the more
provocative programs being produced since the Federal Communications Commission began deregulating the
industry under the Reagan Administration. The growth of cable television has also encourage broadcasters
to program material that once would have been rejected as inappropriate.
Fox executives dismissed the financial effect of the action, saying the program is solidly booked with
advertising through this seasons, and even has a waiting list. But Jamie Kellner, president of the Fox
network, said he had asked the producers of the program to tone down its script because "they were
pushing the show a little too far." He denied that the changes were the result of Mrs. Rakolta's complaints.
A spokeswoman for Fox Inc., which owns the network, said Rupert Murdoch, the company's owner, and Barry
Diller, the chairman, were travelling yesterday and were unavailable for comment.
Executives at several companies and advertising industry experts said the response to one person's complaints
was highly unusual. "This goes beyond our normal concern for such consumer reaction," said Tony Tortoricci,
a spokesman for Coca-Cola.
On the air since '87
It is not unusual for advertisers to withdraw commercials from controversial programs or from those deemed
potentially offensive. But "Married ... With children" has been on the air since the spring of '87 and is
the most successful series to date on the fledgling Fox network. Last week the program had its highest rating
ever [with "My Mom, the Mom" (312)]. Mrs. Rakolta, who is 41 years old, began her letter-writing campaign on
Jan 15, after she sat down with three of her children to watch an episode ["Her Cups Runneth over" (306)] of
the program which is broadcast on Sunday evenings at 8.30. In an
interview, she said she was "appalled" by the sexual innuendo and treatment of women on the program,
particularly its references to homosexuality and a sequence featuring a woman publicly removing her bra.
'Diet of Gratuitous Sex'
She wrote to 45 companies that advertised on that and subsequent episodes, accusing them of "helping to feed
our kids a steady diet of gratuitous sex and violence."
Mrs. Rakolta, whose husband owns a construction company, said she had never taken up a social or political
cause, and had limited her affiliations to country clubs and the boards of several Detroit cultural institutions.
"I care that there are advertisers out there paying the freight for this," she said. "They're taking my dollars
and putting them into soft-core pornography."
Executives at Fox acknowledged that "Married ... With Children" stretches the limits of acceptable programming,
but said its provocative scripts and situations are merely a realistic depiction of lower middle class family values.
"Al Bundy is not supposed to be a sophisticated man who recognizes that women are equal to men," Mr. Kellner
said, referring to the father of the family, a shoe-store clerk who frequently berates and belittles his wife.
Mr. Kellner called the show a descendant of the situation comedies of the 1970s like "All in the Family" and
"Maude", which explored controversial issues in a humorous yet trenchant way. "With ground-breaking shows,
it's difficult to make judgements," he said.
The show has its adherents. Paul Schulman, head of the Paul Schulman Company, a service that buys televisions
time for advertisers, called it "the second-funniest show on TV, after 'Cheers'."
John J. O'Connor, television critic for The New York Times, wrote that "Married ... With Children" was
"blatantly crude." He described the show as depicting "marriage with the wife as bimbo and the husband as
determined chauvinist." Among the scenes he objected to was one in which a family's dog is shot while having
a bowel movement.
Mr. Kellner said that Fox had received no more complaints about the show than about its other programs. He
accused Mrs. Rakolta of taking scenes out of context to build her case. He said that Mrs. Rakolta has
misinterpreted an exchange between two male characters as a reference to homosexuality, and that the scene
of a woman removing her bra was filmed from behind.
But Mr. Kellner added, "Occasionally, you'll see things and say, 'Wow, how did that get by?'"
Fox executives refused to provide a tape of the episode in question.
Mr. Kellner said his decision to tone down the program had no connection to Mrs. Rakolta's campaign. He said
he wanted to eliminate "a group of double-entendres and innuendoes" from the program.
But he acknowledged that he reviewed the episode in question after receiving Mrs. Rakolta's complaints.
A Loyal Audience
"Married ... with children" has garnered a loyal audience, particularly among men between the ages of 18 and
49, Mr. Kellner said. The show's ratings have climbed steadily since its first season. Last week the program
scored the second highest rating and share in its competitive Sunday evening slot, behind the perennial CBS
hit "Murder, she Wrote", according to the A.C. Nelson company. The Fox show had a rating of 12.5 points -
each point represents 904,000 households - an drew 18 percent of the viewing audience.
But strong ratings and arguments for artistic integrity have not stopped advertisers from dropping the show.
A spokeswoman for Proctor & Gamble said the company reviewed "Married ... With Children" after receiving Mrs.
Rakolta's letter and cancelled further advertising because of its ' negative portrayal of the American family.'
Coca-Cola will not drop its advertising completely, but will make decisions "on an episode by episode basis",
said Mr. Tortoricci, a company spokesman. He added that Mr. Herbert was prompted to take action by Mrs.
Several companies alerted by Mrs. Rakolta's letter said they would tighten screening procedures. Some said
they would add Fox television shows as well a syndicated programs to the list of those that are reviewed.
Previously, these advertisers had screened only network programming for acceptability.
Tambrands, which pulled ads from "Married ... With Children" after receiving a letter from Mrs. Rakolta, said
it had not reviewed the episode before its ads ran. Paul Konney, a spokesman, said the company would seek
"better pre-screening of non-network programs."
A spokesman for Kimberly-Clark said the company took action after reviewing the offending episode.
An advertisement for Wendy's appeared on the Jan. 29 episode. If the episode had been screened by the company
it would have been rejected as inappropriate, said Ronald T. Polk, director of media services at Wendy's
International Inc. "We need to review our entire screening process," he said.
Despite the vows of companies to tighten procedures, few people in the industry predicted that advertisers
would abandon the show or other popular syndicated programs like "Geraldo" and "The Morton Downey Jr. Show"
in any great numbers.
Mrs. Rakolta, who has written hundreds of letters to advertisers protesting the Fox program, said she
planned to start an organization "to identify , target and boycott advertisers who advertise on these shows."
Mrs. Rakolta said she was surprised by the response to her campaign. 'I expected to be disregarded,' she said.
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