With help from her longtime friend "Lamb Chop," ventriloquist Shari Lewis insisted to Congress that quality television programming for children can be produced in short order.
The Public Broadcasting Service commissioned a show from her in May 1991, and "Lamb Chop's Play-Along" was on the air by September, Lewis said Wednesday at a House hearing."There are artists in the theatrical industry who can produce quickly magnificent products," the veteran television performer said. "PBS taps into that all the time.
"Do we not think Norman Lear, if approached to produce the definitive hot children's program, wouldn't say, `Whoopee!'?" she asked. "He would."
"We need the best you grownups have to offer," squeaked Lamb Chop, surely one of the few hand puppets ever to testify before Congress. "If you give it to us, we will give you the good stuff back."
Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., chairman of the House telecommunications subcommittee, called the hearing to draw attention to the requirement in the Children's Television Act of 1990 that commercial broadcasters carry programs designed to serve children's "educational and informational needs."
He said their response so far has been "simply unacceptable" and that their licenses were at stake if they don't start producing more shows "whose primary purpose is to educate."
License renewal applications to the Federal Communications Commission have shown that few local broadcasters have developed new shows to meet the law's requirements. Instead, they're repackaging old cartoons and sitcoms and calling them educational.
One broadcaster said, for example, that rebroadcasts of the 1962 cartoon series "The Jetsons" help prepare kids for life in the next century.
In reaction, Turner Broadcasting, owner of the Hanna-Barbera product, issued a statement Wednesday saying: "Shows like `The Flintstones' and `The Jetsons' were never meant to take the place of educational television for children."