Washington duo has food for thought on TV, obesity link


WASHINGTON -- Man, I'm hungry.

Lionel Bart's song "Food Glorious Food" from the 1968 musical "Oliver!" keeps running through my head. I mean, "Please, sir, may I have some more?"

All this mouth-watering rumination was triggered by FCC Commissioner Deborah Tate and the Honorable Sen. Sam Brownback and the latest attempt by our good politicos to bring some good manners to the TV screen.

Tate is a Republican from Tennessee. She has been known to hand out GooGoo Clusters to visitors. The GooGoo is a truly delicious round mound of pure milk chocolate, caramel, marshmallow and fresh-roasted peanuts. It was invented in Nashville in 1912 by the Standard Candy Co.

Did I mention how hungry I am?

Tate talks with a soft Southern accent. She reminds me of my late aunt Alma. She wears pearls a lot and piles her hair on top of her head. Bart would never have cast her as Mr. Slout.

Brownback is a Republican from Kansas. He's a presidential hopeful and a darling of the Christian right. I don't know if Brownback hands out anything in his office. Maybe he gives people wheat. He's a tall man with a velvety voice. He may have a Kansas accent, but I'm not sure what one sounds like. He is, however, a dogged questioner. I bet Bart could find a role for him.

You see, I watch a fair amount of TV, and according to Tate and Brownback, it makes me fat. It seems that gluttony is one of the seven deadly sins of which the media is guilty. We're getting fatter, and there are policymakers who think it's television's fault.

Last week, Brownback and Tate had a couple baker's dozen executives from the television and food and beverage industries, and health-care professionals on Capitol Hill for the first meeting of what we Sparkheads call the Fat TV Committee. It has an official name that nobody uses, Fat TV Committee being much more evocative and poetical.

You know, I could use a little snack, right now.

The Fat TV Committee is as much Tate's baby as it is Brownback's. Tate made it clear she wants to do something about America's expanding waistline since she took office. It was hard to take her seriously at first, but now I think it's as serious as a heart attack.

"There should be the same number of ads for healthy foods as for unhealthy foods," Tate said. "The story line should include healthful messages and activities. ... There should be a balance."

When a cop eats a doughnut in a TV show, is the government going to require his partner to eat a celery stick? Is Homer Simpson, that satiric monument to American consumption, going to be forced to slim down? Scriptwriters are going to have to do some linguistic gymnastics, because TV show characters will have to use certain products as a commercial imperative and eat healthy foods under government mandate.

Did I tell you I was hungry?

Don't think the Fat TV Committee is just a flash in the pan. It's just another ingredient the program haters are throwing into their policy stew. The FCC is considering asking Congress for the power to regulate violent content in the same way it regulates indecent content, and Brownback is pushing hard to get subscription services under the same regulatory recipe.

This week, the Kaiser Family Foundation will release a new study on food advertising on television that targets children. You can bet it won't be pretty. Brownback is opening Kaiser's press conference Wednesday.

It's a good thing they're going to serve breakfast because I'll really be hungry by then.