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William E. Kennard
Chairman, Federal Communications Commission
"Through the Eyes of Children" Conference
North Hollywood, CA
March 16, 1999

Entertaining and Responsible TV

(As Prepared for Delivery)

Thank you, Meryl, for that kind introduction.

When I entered the TV business as an intern at the local station in San Francisco, I thought that maybe one day, I would be able to address the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences and thank you all for an Emmy Award.

Well, I'm still hoping for that nomination. Maybe you can create a category where I'd have a chance like, "Best African-American Chairman of an Independent Regulatory Agency Who is Named Bill."

I want to thank Meryl for her leadership and friendship, and for her extraordinary work in making this conference a reality. And I want to thank the entire Academy for hosting today's event.

To me, your commitment to bring parents, producers, executives, academics, and policymakers together in one room to think for a moment what television looks like "through children's eyes" says so much about you.

It shows that the television industry realizes that with the vast opportunities that you enjoy comes a responsibility, a responsibility to make our communities stronger. You should all be proud.

When working on today's conference with Meryl and my staff, I kept thinking about what TV looked like through my eyes when I was a child, growing up in the 1960's.

And I tell you, the world that I saw wasn't the world that I knew.

Almost all the women that I saw on TV were in supporting roles as mothers and homemakers. I never saw a woman like my mother, who not only was a loving mother and wife, but also a dedicated teacher going to work everyday to teach English to those newly-arrived here in LA.

And the kids she taught? I almost never saw them or their hard-working families on TV either. The only Hispanics I remember seeing where the bad guys in Westerns or the bad guys in urban dramas.

And I remember crashing on our couch, flipping on the TV and watching for hours, but never seeing a black face. In the world I knew there were black architects, like my dad; black teachers, like my mom; black ministers, black storeowners, black family, black friends. But not on TV.

When I was a kid, a black face appearing on television was an event in my household. People would literally run out of bedrooms to the living room to see those first, fleeting images of black people on television. Usually we arrived too late, because the images were almost always just passing ones.

But they had an impact. I remember once the Bank of America had a black teller in one of its commercials. My mother was so excited that she ran out and changed the family's bank account.

Television, which was supposed to be my window on the world, was more like a kaleidoscope, giving me a distorted image of the country, of our community, and of ourselves.

Thankfully, much has changed since I was a boy. First, there was "I Spy," the first prime time show to feature a black actor, Bill Cosby. As Alexander Scott, Cosby not only entertained audiences - he also broke new ground. And then there was the "Flip Wilson Show," which featured the first black performer to achieve major popularity on a show, followed by the "Jeffersons," "Roots," and the "Cosby Show."

And we began to see women in working roles like in the "Mary Tyler Moore Show" and as single mothers, like in "One Day at a Time." Hispanics and Asians too joined them on TV.

We have come far since those Bank of America commercials, but there is farther to go. There are still nights that you can go hours without seeing on TV the diversity that you see on your street.

Television is the most powerful medium we have to tell our kids what they are worth and what they can be.

Over two-thirds of children surveyed in a report by Children Now said that it mattered who was on television shows and how they were portrayed.

As one African-American boy said, "People are inspired by what they see on television. If they do not see themselves on TV, they want to be someone else." They want to be someone else. All of us here want kids to have programming that make them feel good about who they are - and what they can be. We all want that.

But just as kids don't always want to eat their vegetables or go to bed on time, they often don't watch what their parents want them to watch. They don't always watch the shows that are designed just for them.

That is why we are here today to examine what kids actually watch and then figure out how to develop programs that are both entertaining and responsible.

And that is why we are here to honor those programs that live up to these standards. I applaud you all for establishing the Honor Roll that will be announced today. It will showcase the best. It will inspire us. And it will help parents looking for programs that show the world in their children's eyes.

As we begin today's conference, I am optimistic, not just because parents, producers, and executives are working together.

But because children themselves want what they see on TV to look like them and where they live. They want it to reflect the rich diversity of our entire nation.

They know that television shapes how we look at and deal with our neighbors. They realize its power. As one white teenager said in the Children Now report, "I think if there is a mixed show [and people] are talking about it, it will help the whites relate more to blacks…like in school, television starts conversation."

Our kids want the shows that they watch to reflect the world that they live in - a world of many cultures and many races living, learning, and working together. Kids want this. We want this. Working together, we can make this happen.

But you don't need me to tell you what children want to watch. So now, let's hear from the kids.