Richard Heffner, longtime host of PBS interview show The Open Mind and former head of the MPAA ratings board, has died. The Rutgers University professor passed away December 17 at his home in New York City of a cerebral hemorrhage, according to the university’s website. He was 88. Heffner was tapped to head the MPAA’s Classifications and Ratings Administration in 1974 by then-chairman Jack Valenti. He served until 1994. The PG-13 and NC-17 ratings were introduced during his tenure — PG-13 in 1984 and NC-17 in 1990. He spoke about the ratings with our sister pub Variety in 1994. When a producer asks about reasons for the rating he told Variety, “We always try to be helpful,but sometimes we simply can’t be as specific as filmmakers want us to be. We’re not film editors, and don’t pretend to be.” He also acknowledged that the NC-17 rating should have been communicated more clearly when it was introduced. “It was clear we needed a public service campaign. A mistake was made in not educating the public” that the NC-17 was not the same as an X, he told Variety.
Heffner created and hosted The Open Mind, a half-hour public affairs program broadcast on PBS stations around the country, from 1956 until his death. During that time, he interviewed dozens of iconic figures, among them Margaret Mead and President Jimmy Carter. In 1963, after the assassination in Mississippi of civil rights leader Medgar Evers, he sat down with civil rights leaders Wyatt Tee Walker, James Farmer, Alan Morrison and Malcolm X to discuss the state of race relations in America. Heffner taught communication and public policy at Rutgers for nearly 50 years and was teaching two courses at the time of his death.