On January 10, 1995, PBS’s Frontline aired an episode provocatively
titled “Does TV Kill?” The show investigated television viewing habits of
average families in upstate New York, and promised to “reveal unexpected
conclusions about the impact TV has on Americans’ world view.” But if one looks
at the history of television discussions about television effects, Frontline only reiterated issues that
have troubled academics and filled popular opinion since the introduction of
television. Frontline’s investigation
is part of a much longer history of television effects research, and
decades-long concern that violent television was to blame for a broad range of
social violence. This article takes a historical approach to the topic of how
media discusses media violence by considering how television programs have
addressed the problem of television violence and discussed available evidence.
These programs are often prompted by real-world incidents, resulting in what
media scholar Kirsten Drotner calls a “media panic.”
 How commentators viewed
television in the 1990s has origins in the concern over the amount of social
violence occurring in the nation during the 1960s. The debate over the effects
of media violence has of course been going on for millennia. But television was
seen in the fifties and sixties as something completely different from any
other previous media. Like radio, but unlike cinema, it was ubiquitous within
the home, often called a “member of the family.” But like cinema, and unlike
radio, it was captivatingly visual. It was thus family entertainment capable of
corrupting innocent children all over the United States from within the home. When unprecedented
social violence erupted during the 1960s, primarily among high-school and
college students, many adults assumed television – seemingly the only thing to
have changed in their immediate environment – was the culprit. In addition,
brand new experimental research protocols on the effects of television were
devised in the early 1960s that correlated violent television with real-world
aggressive behavior, and in 1972, the United States Surgeon General had deemed
television violence as a public health problem.
 Thereafter, there were periodic televised discussions with industry executives
and research experts about the effects of media violence. In this collection, I explore
four of these types of public television programs, two from the 1970s and two
from the 1990s, and consider what, if anything, has changed in the questions
asked and what progress the media commentators have made in discussing the issue. I conclude that, while certain questions about practical matters of television viewing have changed- such as how real the graphics look, or what type of programming is available at which times, the questions about the effects of television violence stay essentially the same.
 Drotner, Kirsten. 1999. “Dangerous Media? Panic
Discourses and Dilemmas of Modernity∗.” Paedagogica Historica 35
(3) (January): 593–619.
 United States Surgeon General's Scientific Advisory
Committee on Television and Social Behavior. 1972. Television and Growing Up: the Impact of Television Violence.
United States Public Health Service Office of the Surgeon General.
Copyright © WGBH Educational Foundation
Additional Credits: Adviser Consulted During the Creation of this Collection: Philip Scepanski (PhD, Northwestern University) currently teaches in the Department of Communication and Theatre at Concordia University Chicago. His current research combines media theory and American television history to examine the ways in which comedy engages moments of American "national trauma" like the JFK assassination, the 1992 Los Angeles riots, and 9/11.