The pilot is proof that her word was good. But that doesn't mean Swingtown has the kind of creative freedom it would on a cable network, either.
Though he said he finds himself fighting notes to tone down the language or sexual content – and not always successfully – the limitations of a broadcast show can also be a benefit.
"On Showtime, where they really use sex as a calling card, it would have been 'how much sex can you show,'" he said. "We would have gotten caught in this trap of trying to up the ante every week. By going to a broadcast network, which has much stricter standards and is subject to fines by the FCC should they cross over into anything that is considered indecent, it forced us to really sharpen our narrative skills as storytellers."
However, the threat of FCC fines makes the network extra vigilant in order to prevent crossing those ill-defined lines into indecency. CBS in particular is still reeling from the Janet Jackson Super Bowl wardrobe malfunction in 2004. "They're spending more than the fine would ever be to fight it in court. It's a point of honour," Poul explained, decrying the hypocrisy of a system that seems unconcerned with brutal violence but that keeps close watch on indecency like "the sound of a zipper opening" or "how long a character's head dips out of the frame."
Two weeks before the Swingtown pilot aired, the network suddenly got cold feet over a scene where Grant Show's character was having sex with a flight attendant in the background while his wife walked out of the room to get a Tab. "I guess they were distracted by the Tab or something," is Poul's explanation for why the network hadn't previously objected to the fact that the stewardess's legs were wrapped around his body. It was too late in the process to cut the scene, so they performed a digital amputation of the woman's right leg. It cost the network $10,000, which they happily paid.
"They're kind of akin to a third world theocracy, the level of sexual puritanism," Poul said of the FCC. "On Desperate Housewives or CSI, there is a level of lascivious content, but the person involved usually gets punished or, preferably, killed. We love our characters. We don't judge them. There are no negative repercussions for the behaviour they're engaging in. They find that terrifying."
He clarified that there will be emotional fallout for the characters because of the changing mores of the time and their reactions to them. "'Nobody gets punished' is not the same as 'nobody gets hurt.' We're not visiting vengeance on anyone, nobody gets punished for what they've done, but inevitably there are casualties," he noted. "I think the show has a very nostalgic tone and tries to take in general a very positive approach to what was a period of experimentation, partly to counterbalance what I feel has been this wave of negative, revisionist looking back at the '70s through the dark prism of Reagan and AIDS."