- As executives from Viacom Inc. and the NFL head to Washington today to answer questions about sex and profanity on TV, [webcast just ended live here] network censors are sharpening their scissors.
CBS, a unit of Viacom, last week deleted a brief scene showing a fleeing man’s naked backside from “Without a Trace.” The network has forced a trim from a coming episode of the missing-persons drama, this time a depiction of a couple having sex standing up, sources said. Edits also are affecting CBS’ “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.”
At Walt Disney Co.’s ABC, executives said they had preliminary discussions about trimming a 15-second sex scene from “NYPD Blue,” which returned to the schedule Tuesday night after a two-month hiatus. The footage would be deleted from telecasts in the Central and Mountain time zones, where the series airs one hour earlier than on the coasts and presumably is seen by younger viewers. The 10 p.m. hour is where virtually all envelope-pushing dramas run on the broadcast networks.
General Electric Co.’s NBC last week trimmed a shot of an elderly woman’s breast from an episode of “ER.” The network acted under pressure from affiliate stations that were nervous after the hubbub over Janet Jackson’s breast being bared during the Feb. 1 Super Bowl halftime show on CBS.
The networks’ newfound skittishness about nudity is in sharp contrast to their practice of the last few years, when they all took halting steps to match cable networks in pushing edgier, more-explicit programming.
The premiere last year of the NBC mid-season drama “Kingpin” showed a crime lord’s pet tiger being fed a victim’s severed leg, and nudity and salty language are staples on “NYPD Blue.”
….Viacom President and Chief Operating Officer Mel Karmazin and National Football League Commissioner Paul Tagliabue are expected to be grilled by committee members, who are considering increasing the maximum fine for violations of decency rules from $27,500 per occurrence to $275,000.
“The standards-and-practices departments are being much more vigilant about what’s going through,” one network executive said on condition of anonymity. “I think everybody’s been put on notice” since the Super Bowl.
….Producers for broadcast TV have to worry about another force far more powerful than censors or even senators: advertisers. The people who buy time on networks traditionally avoid anything that reeks of controversy.
John Rash, of the ad firm Campbell Mithun, called the Jackson incident “a crystallizing event of continuous cultural concern.” [LA Times]
Hey, I want shows to have the freedom to be the best they can be, but I also understand the concerns of millions of people who feel betrayed by the media, especially television. I think the only answer is to have very specific and well-publcized rules about what you can show when. It isn’t just the “indecency” of the Super Bowl halftime show that people are so upset about, it’s the violation of trust that goes along with it. It’s okay to “push the envelope” as long as the expectation of envelope-pushing is there.
If they do increase the maximum fine for violations of decency rules from $27,500 per occurrence to $275,000, you wil see everyone take the rules rather seriously.