The New York Times
March 2, 1989
This article spanned over two pages - the front page, then continuing inside.
The headline on the front page was:
"A Mother Is Heard as Sponsors Abandon a TV Hit"
then the rest had the following headline:
"Mother's Voice Is Heard As Sponsors Quit Show"
with a picture of Rakolta with the caption: Terry Rakolta of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., has persuaded
several advertisers to withdraw commercials from the Fox television show "Married ... With Children."
A one-woman campaign by an angry Michigan woman has prompted several of the nation's largest
advertisers to cancel commercials on the Fox Broadcasting Company's top-rated series and to
review their television advertising policies.
Procter & Gamble, McDonalds, Tambrands and Kimberly-Clark have instructed their advertising
agencies not to buy further time on the program "Married ... With Children." The situation comedy
depicts the daily tribulations of the Bundys, a blue-collar family that vents its frustration
with what critics have called lacerating and frequently lewd humor.
In an interview the Michigan woman, Terry Rakolta, said she had objected to the program because
of its "blatant exploitation of women and sex and anti-family attitudes."
The president of Coca-Cola USA, Ira C. Herbert, apologized in a letter to Mrs. Rakolta for
running a commercial during the program, saying he was "corporately, professionally and
personally embarrassed" that an advertisement for Coca-Cola had appeared.
Coco-Cola and several other companies said they would change their procedures for screening
programs on which they advertise, largely in response to the letters by Mrs. Rakolta, who lives
in Bloomfield Hills, a wealthy suburb in Detroit. Johnson & Johnson and American Home Products
had already decided not to advertise on the show.
The cancellation of commercials reflects the growing sensitivity of television advertisers to the
more provocative programs being produced since the Federal Communications Commission began
deregulating the industry under the Reagan Administration. The growth of cable television has
also encourage broadcasters to program material that once would have been rejected as inappropriate.
Fox executives dismissed the financial effect of the action, saying the program is solidly booked
with advertising through this seasons, and even has a waiting list. But Jamie Kellner, president
of the Fox network, said he had asked the producers of the program to tone down its script
because "they were pushing the show a little too far." He denied that the changes were the result
of Mrs. Rakolta's complaints.
A spokeswoman for Fox Inc., which owns the network, said Rupert Murdoch, the company's owner,
and Barry Diller, the chairman, were travelling yesterday and were unavailable for comment.
Executives at several companies and advertising industry experts said the response to one
person's complaints was highly unusual. "This goes beyond our normal concern for such consumer
reaction," said Tony Tortoricci, a spokesman for Coca-Cola.
On the air since '87
It is not unusual for advertisers to withdraw commercials from controversial programs or from
those deemed potentially offensive. But "Married ... With children" has been on the air since the
spring of '87 and is the most successful series to date on the fledgling Fox network. Last week
the program had its highest rating ever.
Mrs. Rakolta, who is 41 years old, began her letter-writing campaign on Jan 15, after she sat
down with three of her children to watch an episode of the program which is broadcast on Sunday
evenings at 8.30. In an interview, she said she was "appalled" by the sexual innuendo and
treatment of women on the program, particularly its references to homosexuality and a sequence
featuring a woman publicly removing her bra.
'Diet of Gratuitous Sex'
She wrote to 45 companies that advertised on that and subsequent episodes, accusing them of
"helping to feed our kids a steady diet of gratuitous sex and violence."
Mrs. Rakolta, whose husband owns a construction company, said she had never taken up a social or
political cause, and had limited her affiliations to country clubs and the boards of several
Detroit cultural institutions.
"I care that there are advertisers out there paying the freight for this," she said. "They're
taking my dollars and putting them into soft-core pornography."
Executives at Fox acknowledged that "Married ... With Children" stretches the limits of
acceptable programming, but said its provocative scripts and situations are merely a realistic
depiction of lower middle class family values.
"Al Bundy is not supposed to be a sophisticated man who recognizes that women are equal to men,"
Mr. Kellner said, referring to the father of the family, a shoe-store clerk who frequently
berates and belittles his wife.
Mr. Kellner called the show a descendant of the situation comedies of the 1970s like "All in the
Family" and "Maude", which explored controversial issues in a humorous yet trenchant way. "With
ground-breaking shows, it's difficult to make judgements," he said.
The show has its adherents. Paul Schulman, head of the Paul Schulman Company, a service that buys
televisions time for advertisers, called it "the second-funniest show on TV, after 'Cheers'."
John J. O'Connor, television critic for The New York Times, wrote that "Married ... With
Children" was "blatantly crude." He described the show as depicting "marriage with the wife as
bimbo and the husband as determined chauvinist." Among the scenes he objected to was one in which
a family's dog is shot while having a bowel movement.
Mr. Kellner said that Fox had received no more complaints about the show than about its other
programs. He accused Mrs. Rakolta of taking scenes out of context to build her case. He said that
Mrs. Rakolta has misinterpreted an exchange between two male characters as a reference to
homosexuality, and that the scene of a woman removing her bra was filmed from behind.
But Mr. Kellner added, "Occasionally, you'll see things and say, 'Wow, how did that get by?'"
Fox executives refused to provide a tape of the episode in question.
Mr. Kellner said his decision to tone down the program had no connection to Mrs. Rakolta's
campaign. He said he wanted to eliminate "a group of double-entendres and innuendoes" from the
program. But he acknowledged that he reviewed the episode in question after receiving Mrs.
A Loyal Audience
"Married ... with children" has garnered a loyal audience, particularly among men between the
ages of 18 and 49, Mr. Kellner said. The show's ratings have climbed steadily since its first
season. Last week the program scored the second highest rating and share in its competitive
Sunday evening slot, behind the perennial CBS hit "Murder, she Wrote", according to the A.C.
Nelson company. The Fox show had a rating of 12.5 points - each point represents 904,000
households - an drew 18 percent of the viewing audience.
But strong ratings and arguments for artistic integrity have not stopped advertisers from
dropping the show. A spokeswoman for Proctor & Gamble said the company reviewed "Married ... With
Children" after receiving Mrs. Rakolta's letter and cancelled further advertising because of its
'negative portrayal of the American family.'
Coca-Cola will not drop its advertising completely, but will make decisions "on an episode by
episode basis", said Mr. Tortoricci, a company spokesman. He added that Mr. Herbert was prompted
to take action by Mrs. Rakolta's letter.
Several companies alerted by Mrs. Rakolta's letter said they would tighten screening procedures.
Some said they would add Fox television shows as well a syndicated programs to the list of those
that are reviewed. Previously, these advertisers had screened only network programming for
Tambrands, which pulled ads from "Married ... With Children" after receiving a letter from Mrs.
Rakolta, said it had not reviewed the episode before its ads ran. Paul Konney, a spokesman, said
the company would seek "better pre-screening of non-network programs."
A spokesman for Kimberly-Clark said the company took action after reviewing the offending
An advertisement for Wendy's appeared on the Jan. 29 episode. If the episode had been screened by
the company it would have been rejected as inappropriate, said Ronald T. Polk, director of media
services at Wendy's International Inc. "We need to review our entire screening process," he said.
Despite the vows of companies to tighten procedures, few people in the industry predicted that
advertisers would abandon the show or other popular syndicated programs like "Geraldo" and "The
Morton Downey Jr. Show" in any great numbers.
Mrs. Rakolta, who has written hundreds of letters to advertisers protesting the Fox program, said
she planned to start an organization "to identify , target and boycott advertisers who advertise
on these shows."
Mrs. Rakolta said she was surprised by the response to her campaign. 'I expected to be
disregarded,' she said.