Washington Times

Wednesday, March 3, 1999

On TV, fathers no longer know best

By Cheryl Wetzstein

Television networks should make more room for daddy since TV shows may be the only place where millions of children will see a father in action, a fatherhood advocacy group said yesterday.

Only 15 prime-time shows have fathers as regular, central characters, the National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI) said in a study released yesterday.

This reflects less than 15 percent of the 102 shows on NBC, CBS, ABC, Fox and Warner Bros. networks, NFI President Wade F. Horn said.

The absence of fathers on TV is worrisome because an estimated 25 million children are growing up without their biological father in the home, Mr. Horn said.

Since these children are more likely to see a father on the TV than in their home, it's important to show fathers who are dedicated, involved and competent, he said.

Rep. Joseph R. Pitts, Pennsylvania Republican, and Rep. Mike McIntyre, North Carolina Democrat, both members of a congressional task force on fatherhood promotion, yesterday urged networks to become more father-friendly.

Baby boomers grew up with loving, admirable TV fathers, said Mr. McIntyre. "What kind of messages are we sending to our children today?" he said.

The NFI study found that not only are fathers mostly absent in prime time, most of the dads that appear don't have the right stuff.

Only four of the 15 shows with fathers have "positive" characterizations, i.e., the TV fathers are involved with their children, offer moral guidance, are competent as fathers and make the family a priority, said NFI.

That means the rest of the fathers on TV are either incompetent or uninvolved, said Mr. Horn, who listed the four shows with the worst dads as WB's "Dawson's Creek," Fox's "That '70s Show," ABC's "Brother's Keeper" and CBS' "The Nanny."

"The Nanny" rates the lowest because the father character --wealthy Maxwell Sheffield -- relates only to his nanny-turned-wife, even when the children are in the room, said Mr. Horn.

The top father figures are Stephen Collins' the Rev. Eric Camden on WB's "7th Heaven" and Gerald McRaney's Russell Greene in CBS' "Promised Land." The other good dads are in WB's "Smart Guy" and ABC's "Two of a Kind," NFI said.

The seven other shows with fathers, including the popular "Home Improvement" on ABC and "The Simpsons" on Fox, get mixed reviews, the group said.

On "Home Improvement," for example, Tim Allen's character --"Tool Time" cable show host and father of three Tim Taylor -- is engaged with his children, but "every week, he has to be taught a new lesson," said Mr. Horn.

Warner Brothers Chief Executive Officer Jamie Kellner yesterday welcomed the news that two of WB's shows had "good" dads and credited the shows' writers, producers and performers for those characters.

However, the network is unlikely to respond to appeals for more father-friendly shows, Mr. Kellner said.

Developing a show is a "far more artistic process" than that, he said. "Most WB programs have a family component," he added. The network's goal is to "intelligently represent what exists in society today" whether it's life "in a healthy, happy family" or a family "that isn't that way."

Other shows with "mixed" portrayals of fathers are ABC's "The Hughleys," NBC's "Mad About You," Fox's "Holding the Baby" and "King of the Hill," and CBS' "Everybody Loves Raymond."

The NFI study also said that: