SPEAK UP ABOUT TALK SHOWS

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The question of advertiser influence in TV programming is a tricky one. Producers insist on independence, with advertisers either buying the whole package or not. We've often commented on the problems that erupt when advertisers tinker with programming. Yet we applaud Procter & Gamble and AT&T for trying to work with producers of daytime talk shows to clean up the sleazy content that has angered the public and Washington.

With the 20 or more talk shows on the air getting about half the daytime audience, it is important for P&G in particular to keep its ad dollars invested in daytime. As the largest advertiser in daytime, P&G's actions are also of considerable interest to producers, networks and stations. So the company has taken a middle ground, letting producers know what its guidelines are, pulling out of shows it deems offensive, and supporting shows that deal with controversial subjects responsibly.

AT&T likewise reviews the shows, or talks with their producers after episodes are taped but before they air, making its decisions on an individual basis.

Industry self-regulation can work. Two veteran talk shows, "The Oprah Winfrey Show" and "Donahue," have already decided to turn away from sleaze. And consultant Jack Myers says some in government who have been complaining about offensive talk shows expressed enthusiasm for his plan to form an industry advisory board to address the problem.

The talk show problem needs advertiser involvement. As P&G's senior VP for advertising, Robert Wehling, said: "If we immediately give up and walk away, we surrender our ability to make a difference, which would be the worst thing we could do.'

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