Action for Children's Television

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Action for Children's Television
FoundersPeggy Charren, Lillian Ambrosino, Evelyn Kaye Sarson and Judy Chalfen[2][3]
TypeAdvocacy group
FocusChildren's television programming ("kidvid")
Area served
United States
MethodMedia attention, direct-appeal campaigns
Key people
Peggy Charren, Judith Chalfen
20,000 maximum

Action for Children's Television (ACT) was founded by Peggy Charren and Judy Chalfen in Newton, Massachusetts, USA, in 1968 as a grassroots, nonprofit child advocacy group dedicated to improving the quality of television programming offered to children.[3] Specifically, ACT's main goals were to encourage diversification in children's television offerings, to discourage overcommercialization of children's programming, and to eliminate deceptive advertising aimed at young viewers.[5] ACT had up to 20,000 volunteer members, 8 staff members, and an operational budget of $225,000 by the mid-1980s, but declined financially and to 4 staff members before disbanding in 1992.[6][7] About 70% of funds came from the group's membership, while the rest came from foundation grants (e.g. Markle Foundation) and fees from lectures and book sales.[7]


The 1960s[edit]

ACT's initial focus was the Boston edition of the syndicated Romper Room, a children's show which promoted its toy products to its viewers.

In the late 1960s, ACT also targeted Saturday morning cartoons that involved superheroes and violence, including The Herculoids, Space Ghost, Birdman and the Galaxy Trio, Super President and Fantastic Four. The group was responsible for driving these shows off the air by the start of the 1969-70 television season, and they were replaced by Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?, H.R. Pufnstuf, Dastardly and Muttley in Their Flying Machines, and other light comedy-fantasy programs.[8]

The 1970s[edit]

In 1970, ACT petitioned the FCC to ban advertising from children's programming. In subsequent years, it sought a more limited prohibition, eliminating commercials for specific categories of products. In 1971, ACT challenged the promotion of vitamins to children. "One-third of the commercials were for vitamin pills, even though the bottles said, 'Keep out of reach of children' because an overdose could put them in a coma," said Charren. Responding to ACT's campaign, vitamin-makers voluntarily withdrew their advertising. In addition to petitioning for the FCC to ban advertising, ACT requested the FCC to publish a public notice of their guidelines for children's television. The guidelines included: "1. That there be a minimum of 14 hours programming for children of different ages each week, as a public service; 2. That there be no commercials on children’s programs; 3. That hosts on children’s shows do not sell." [9]

On October 16th and 17th, 1970, ACT co-sponsored the First National Symposium on Children and Television. The Symposium’s theme was ‘Facts for Action’, which invited guests to attend panels discussing what was on television for children at the time. Mr. Fred Rogers gave the keynote speeches, ‘The Ecology of Childhood’, which examined the effects of television on children, and ‘Course of Action’, which discussed legal and political ideas that could be used to create change in the children’s television industry.[10]

In 1973, responding to concerns raised by ACT, the National Association of Broadcasters adopted a revised code limiting commercial time in children's programming to twelve minutes per hour. Additionally, the hosts of children's television programs were prohibited from appearing in commercials aimed at children.

In 1977, ACT, together with the Center for Science in the Public Interest, petitioned the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to ban television advertising targeted at children too young to understand the concept of selling, as well as advertising for high-sugar foods pitched at older children.

The 1980s and the 1990s[edit]

In 1981, then-President Ronald Reagan had appointed Mark S. Fowler as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. As Fowler, a longtime proponent of deregulation, had determined that children's television should be dictated by the marketplace, that year saw the cancellation of many long-standing and Emmy-winning shows such as Captain Kangaroo, Schoolhouse Rock, Kids Are People Too!, Animals, Animals, Animals, and the CBS Children's Film Festival, all of which ACT had vigorously fought to keep on the air. It also saw the debut of many toy-inspired programs, which ACT contended were nothing more than half-hour commercials: G. I. Joe, My Little Pony, The Transformers, M.A.S.K., He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, and the controversial Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future.

Throughout the 1980s, ACT criticized television programs that featured popular toys such as G. I. Joe and He-Man, maintaining that they "blur(red) the distinction between program content and commercial speech," and successfully barred Garbage Pail Kids from the air. It also opposed the proposed introduction of Channel One News, a television news show featuring advertiser-based programming, into the schools, an effort which met with only limited success.

ACT brought many cases before the courts, including "Action for Children's Television v. FCC, 821 F.2d 741 (D.C. Cir. 1987)," often cited in media law.[11]

ACT's efforts culminated in the passage of the Children's Television Act of 1990, establishing formal guidelines for children's programming, including rules governing advertising, content and quantity.[12]

Co-founder Peggy Charren commented in 1995, "Too often, we try to protect children by doing in free speech."[13]


  1. ^ Lawson, Carol (24 January 1991). "Guarding the Children's Hour on TV". The New York Times. Retrieved 13 August 2010.
  2. ^ O'Connor, John J. (20 February 1990). "Critic's Notebook; Insidious Elements in Television Cartoons". The New York Times. Retrieved 13 August 2010.
  3. ^ a b Gloria Negri (9 June 2011). "Judith Chalfen, 85; took action to help reform children's TV". Boston Globe. Archived from the original on 2012-02-12.
    - Patricia McCormack (4 July 1971). "Teach Tots To Discriminate". Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Retrieved 19 April 2014.
  4. ^ "Watchdog Group for Children's TV to Disband". The New York Times. 9 January 1992. Retrieved 13 August 2010.
  5. ^ Loree Gerdes Bykerk & Ardith Maney, U.S. Consumer Interest Groups: Institutional Profiles (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1995), 2.
  6. ^ "Ms. Kidvid Calls It Quits". Time. 20 January 1992. Retrieved 14 August 2010.
    - Kirstin Olsen (1994). Chronology of Women's History. Greenwood Press. p. 313. Retrieved 19 April 2014.
  7. ^ a b Loree Gerdes Bykerk & Ardith Maney, U.S. Consumer Interest Groups: Institutional Profiles (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1995), 2–3.
  8. ^ Hollis, Tim (2001). Hi there, boys and girls! : America's local children's TV shows. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi. p. 20. ISBN 1578063965.
  9. ^ "ACT Newsletter Vol.1 No.3". Summer 1970.
  10. ^ "ACT Newsletter Vol.1 No.4". Fall 1970.
  11. ^ "COURT ORDERS F.C.C. REVIEW OF POLICY ON CHILDREN'S TV". The New York Times. AP. 27 June 1987. Retrieved 13 August 2010.
  12. ^ Andrews, Edmund L. (10 April 1991). "THE MEDIA BUSINESS; F.C.C. Adopts Limits on TV Ads Aimed at Children". The New York Times. Retrieved 13 August 2010.
    - Nash, Nathaniel C. (2 October 1990). "THE MEDIA BUSINESS; White House Gets Bill Reducing Ads on Children's TV Programs". The New York Times. Retrieved 13 August 2010.
    - Andrews, Edmund L. (10 April 1991). "THE MEDIA BUSINESS; F.C.C. Adopts Limits on TV Ads Aimed at Children". The New York Times. Retrieved 13 August 2010.
  13. ^ Andrews, Edmund L. (1 July 1995). "Court Upholds a Ban on 'Indecent' Broadcast Programming". The New York Times. Retrieved 13 August 2010.


  • C. Alperowicz & R. Krock. Rocking the Boat: Celebrating 15 Years of Action for Children's Television. Newtonville, Mass.: Action for Children's Television, 1983.
  • Loree Gerdes Bykerk & Ardith Maney. U.S. Consumer Interest Groups: Institutional Profiles. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1995, pp. 2–5.
  • Barry G. Cole & Mal Oettinger. Reluctant Regulators: The FCC and the Broadcast Audience. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1978.
  • Roger Dean Duncan. “Rhetoric of the Kidvid Movement: Ideology, Strategies, and Tactics”, Central States Speech Journal 27, no. 2 (Summer 1976): 129–135.
  • Laurie A. Trotta. “Children's Advocacy Groups: A History and Analysis”, ch. 35 of Handbook of Children and the Media, 2nd edn. Eds. Dorothy G. Singer & Jerome L. Singer. LA-NY-London: SAGE, 2012, pp. 697–713.

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