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More often than not, advertisers have been cast as bad guys when the public debate over kids' TV heats up. The critics-including, at times, us-don't like the products hawked to kids. Or they don't like the clever ways the commercials attract and hold kids' attention. Or they don't like the way some shows are intimately connected with toys, or comic book characters or other commercial ventures.

So we're a little surprised-but pleased-at the willingness shown by some advertisers to sit down with children's TV advocates, broadcasters and Vice President Al Gore to discuss what they might do to help this newest push for more educational kids TV fare.

Under that plan, local commercial TV stations could meet their public service obligations to child viewers by airing at least three hours of educational or informational programming for kids per week. Past antagonisms aside, all parties seem genuinely interested in seeing these new programs win audiences-and refute the conventional wisdom that kids won't watch "educational" shows.

The best insurance advertisers can take out for a smooth and productive kids TV "summit" meeting is to make very clear right now that this is not corporate altruism on their part-and cannot be if corporate marketing resources are to be involved in helping to create and promote these new shows. Advertisers encouraged to embrace new educational TV shows will be looking for ways to make their support work for them in the marketplace. And that gives them a vested interested in the success of the show.

This seems logical enough, but logic has not always ruled when better children's TV is the subject. Smart advertiser executives will see to it that the White House and children's TV advocates understand advertisers are interested in helping out because their companies stand to benefit, as well as the kids. That's a good bargain if it means better programming has a chance to win the audience it deserves.

A Games plan

hile the nation's attention shifts from the Olympic Games in Atlanta to the Political Games opening in San Diego tonight, we look back at the Olympics one last time to see what lessons can be learned about commercialization of major events.

For many of the athletes, press and visitors, the sponsored-carnival appearance, with brand names

plastered on everything outside the venues, left a negative impression. But for the vast majority of the Olympic audience-the millions who watched the Games on TV-the selling was confined to the commercial breaks. And for them, Atlanta was no worse than Barcelona, and Sydney four years hence will be no better than Atlanta.

The commercialization was apparently on the mind of International Olympic Committee President Juan Antonio Samaranch, who failed to describe these Olympics as "the greatest ever" in his closing remarks.

Critics of the private Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games say the city's government should have had more control. After all, cities vie for the right to host the Olympics, hoping the publicity and prestige pay dividends. Yet it was the city of Atlanta that "ambushed" the event, letting an army of street vendors add to the confusion.

So it falls to the major corporations who back the Olympics-and other major events-to use their clout to rein in rampant hawking. They stand to gain the most from close association with a well-run event, and lose the most from over-commercialization.

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