Fatherhood and Television: An Evaluation of Fatherhood Portrayals on Prime Time Television

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To determine what messages about fatherhood children are likely to find on television, the NFI reviewed every prime time television show on the six major networks (ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, UPN and WB) during March and April 2000, and analyzed those shows that had a father and/or mother as a central, recurring character in at least two episodes. The report found that fathers are eight times as likely as mothers to be portrayed negatively. Compared to last year's NFI study, this year's reports slightly more shows with fathers as central characters, but gives virtually the same overall portrayal rating.

The study rates the portrayals of mothers and fathers based on five "dimensions": involvement (in activities such as eating dinner with the children), engagement (one-on-one interaction with the child), guidance (parental concern with development of the child), competence and priority (the parent makes sacrifices for the family).

The report's authors read nothing sinister into their findings; they point out that comedies are more likely to be father-focused than mother-focused, and comedies - like "Family Guy," "The Simpsons" and "Titus" - often "portray incompetence for comic effect." But NFI President Wade Horn believes the negative portrayal of fathers "is not healthy for the institution of fatherhood or for America's children," because almost 40 percent of U.S. children do not live with their biological fathers, and "television is arguably America's most powerful cultural institution." 27 pages. $8. National Fatherhood Initiative, 101 Lake Forest Blvd., Ste. 360, Gaithersburg, MD 20877. (301) 948-0599. www.fatherhood.org.

- Amy Bracken