PBS to Deliver Only Edited War Feed on Weekends
Ken Burns Documentary The War Delivered to PBS Stations in Edited, Unedited Versions
By John Eggerton -- Broadcasting & Cable, 9/24/2007 9:49:00 AM
PBS is looking to avoid airing profanities "in the teeth" of the Federal Communications Commission’s enforcement regime.
While the commission's crackdown on cussing has been called into question by a federal court, PBS is taking no chances, or at least fewer than it could, with Ken Burns’ documentary, The War.
PBS is feeding both an edited and unedited version of The War to stations for each of seven two-hour debut broadcasts over seven evenings, which began Sunday night. It will feed only the edited version -- minus four swear words that crop up in episodes two and five -- to stations for weekend "stacking," when some stations will run all four of the first week's episodes back-to-back, which means that they will start airing in the afternoon or even the morning.
Why? "Because conceivably, a four-year-old could watch it,” PBS spokeswoman Lea Sloan said, "and it would be going right into the teeth of the FCC."
The FCC's teeth have been blunted somewhat by a court decision that could eventually undue its crackdown on fleeting profanities. "The situation is what it is for now," said WGBH Boston director of programming Ron Bachman, but it "may not always be this way."
For now, however, Bachman said his noncommercial station will air the unedited feed for the initial evening debuts of the program, but all subsequent reairings will be of the edited version, including any reairings at night, just so that there is not chance of inadvertently airing one of the unedited versions during the day.
He added that the station might have taken that route anyway as a matter of its own editorial standards, but it is also doing it so that "we don't inadvertently find ourselves in hot water with the FCC," given the multiple airings of the series across his analog and digital channels.
But since WGBH will slate the first airings of episodes two and five before the FCC's 10 p.m. harbor, isn't it “advertently” putting itself in that same hot water?
"Yes," Bachman said,” but given the context of the show, about the experience of people in the extremity of war, and given that PBS and Ken Burns have made a legal determination that an evening broadcast before 10 p.m. [is acceptable] should a station decide that's appropriate for their market, then we are on pretty safe ground as far as the FCC shows."
In the irony department, Burns told a National Press Club audience that WETA's top executive, Sharon Rockefeller, helped to create the climate that allowed him to "practice his craft." Her husband, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.), earlier this year introduced a bill to give the FCC explicit authority to fine broadcasters for fleeting profanities.
And what version is Sharon Rockefeller's WETA going to air? The unedited version for all of the nighttime plays, according to a spokeswoman, but the edited PBS feed for the weekend runs when, it, too, will be stacking the series in the afternoon.
It amazes me the obsession this country has with cuss words and nudity
while acts of violence are completely ignored. Mr Burns'' film is a
masterpiece and should be watched as is. But after seeing the first 3 acts,
I can''t believe PBS is concerned about four curse words because a "...4
year old could watch it" and not the incredibly shocking scenes of
violence. I think I''d rather have my child hear a curse word than watch a
body torn apart by gunfire. In the defense of PBS, it''s the FCC that has
created this ignorant atmosphere.
Rob Paine - 9/27/2007 8:41:00 PM EDT
OMG! In the first place, a four year old child should be in bed at the time this program comes on. Second, if a parent does let their young child watch this wonderful documentary, they should be mindful of the fact that this is war. There will be pictures and stories that are not for the young to being with. Of course there will be profanity. If the title "War" isn't a clue, then well, DUH. I am a Marine vet and a female. I still cuss like a Marine. I would expect nothing but an honest documentary from Ken Burns and being honest it would include profanity. Why does the FCC get so anal? War is hell as someone said. In the context that the profanity is being used, I don't see where they have a problem. If the FCC is so bothered by the fact that a war documentary has profanity in it, maybe they should tell the commander guy that not only is war a waste of humanity, but they have to edit their tv programming because not only is there death and destruction but there is, profanity. Can't have that. This has got to be one of the dumbest things I have ever heard.
kim hillstrom - 9/25/2007 6:47:00 PM EDT
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