With John Eggerton and Jim Benson

A&E Treads Lightly on 'Sopranos' Violence

The folks at A&E have done a nice job of scrubbing the HBO-grade profanity and nudity from The Sopranos, which premieres in syndication next month on the basic-cable network. But it seems the changes to the show's graphic violence amount to little more than a split second of flying brain matter.

Last week, A&E sent out two sample episodes and a clip reel featuring before-and-after edits for nudity, language and violence. Using alternate takes of the Bada-Bing girls in lingerie, the editors were able to make a scene in a strip club look as wholesome as the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show on CBS. Less seamless, however, is the substitution of “jerk” and “freakin'” for variations on the f-bomb. (Alas, there was no example of their solution for “c**ksucker.”)

But one scene edited for violence—in which mob rat Jimmy Altieri gets whacked—looks almost indistinguishable from the original. Whereas the HBO version shows a slow-motion spray of blood and chunks of brain, the A&E version merely trims the shot before said brain chunks hit the wall.

Given the increase of graphic content on TV since The Sopranos premiered in 1999, explains A&E Executive VP/General Manager Bob DeBitetto, there was little need to edit for violence.

The network will run back-to-back episodes at 9 p.m. ET, beginning Jan. 10.

V-Chip Enigma

Speaking of violence, the FCC blasted the V-chip/TV-ratings system last week, declaring in a court brief defending its profanity crackdown that “most of the televisions currently in use have no V-chip capability at all.” (See Washington Watch, p. 16)

Really? As of 2000, all TV sets sold in the country are required to be V-chip–capable. Figuring that consumers buy new sets every eight years or so, the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) estimates that there are 180 million V-chip–enabled TVs in the U.S., or 60%-65% of the universe of 300 million TVs—a majority where we come from.

The commission cited various statements, studies and hearings from 2003 and 2004 in a footnote in the brief, but it was still trying to pin down the exact source of its assertion at press time.

CEA, for its part, bases its figures on a market-analysis database that tracks TV shipments from manufacturers to retailers. Any discrepancy between units shipped and sold is statistically insignificant, says a CEA spokesman, noting that its figure represents the number “installed”—as in up and humming in the home.

But the FCC may be onto something. There really is no V-chip, per se, according to CEA and at least one First Amendment attorney with a dog in this profanity fight.

The so-called V-chip is the same bit of circuitry that governs closed-captioning and other data—such as ratings codes—delivered via the broadcast signal's vertical blanking interval, says CEA Director of Engineering David Wilson.

So where did the notion of a separate chip come from? Says Wilson, “It was something easy to throw around Capitol Hill.”

Maybe Baby

With The King of Queens nearing the end of its nine-year run, writers on the CBS sitcom may find themselves caught in the crossfire over how to bring the show to a graceful conclusion.

In a recent TV Guide interview, co-star Leah Remini said she would “love to see it end with a little life story after the show's over, like a montage of a baby, and see that baby grow up during the credits.”

Funny. Her co-star Kevin James put the kibosh on that idea years ago with an adamant “no baby, no time” proclamation at a TV Academy panel. James lamented that the introduction of a kid late in the run of NBC's Mad About You—culminating in the two-part 1999 series finale in which the Buchmans' grown-up daughter, played by Janeane Garofalo, flashes back on life with her parents—had ruined one of his favorite comedies.

James said he wanted always to remain true to the show's premise: the marriage of a juvenile, heavy-set Queens delivery driver and his sexy, smart and cantankerous wife. Of course, the Buchman child filled an entire season, and Remini is talking about only a minute or two. And after nine years of TV marriage, James may just be too tired to argue about it.