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Feb 4, 2004  •  Post A Comment

NBC Making Last-Minute Edit on ‘ER’

NBC has decided that Thursday’s heavily promoted, sweeps-opening “ER” will be edited to remove the frames in which an elderly patient’s bare breast is seen briefly but clearly.

The network decided Tuesday night to make the cut, which is said to amount to perhaps two seconds of footage. It comes as a relief to NBC affiliates, who had become acutely uncomfortable at the thought of broadcasting even a tastefully done, non-sexual scene featuring a bare breast while the firestorm caused by the Super Bowl halftime show last Sunday is still raging.

“In consultation with our affiliate board, we have asked ‘ER’ to remove a shot of an exposed breast of an 80-year-old woman receiving emergency care,” the network said in a statement. “Though we continue to believe the shot is appropriate and in context, and would have aired after 10:30 p.m. Eastern and Pacific time, we have unfortunately concluded that the atmosphere created by this week’s events has made it too difficult for many of our affiliates to air this shot.”

“You have to have a process where all sides have an opportunity to weigh in,” said Roger Ogden, general manager of Gannett-owned KUSA-TV in Denver and chairman of the affiliates advisory board. “That’s what I like about our relationship with NBC.”

On Tuesday, before NBC made the decision to snip the frames out of “ER,” some NBC affiliates had become so uneasy that one station group executive described himself as “considering what my options are. You’re not going to find the stations very willing to take the heat. I think people are going to be backing off big-time.”

In a statement issued Wednesday afternoon, “ER” Executive Producer John Wells said the NBC affiliates overreacted. He also said that the sort of editing that NBC plans to do on the episode typifies the reasons producers increasingly are turning to cable.

“While the unexpected exposure of Ms. Jackson’s breast during the Super Bowl halftime show was inappropriate and deplorable on a broadcast intended for viewers of all ages, ‘ER’s’ incidental exposure of an elderly woman’s breast in the context of a medical trauma is not comparable,” the statement said.

“Adult viewing audiences at 10:00 p.m. who have been warned appropriately of a show’s adult content are more than capable of making the distinction and adjusting their viewing habits accordingly. These types of affiliate overreactions have a chilling effect on the narrative integrity of adult dramas. This type of network behavior is one of the primary reasons that so many of today’s producers and viewers are increasingly turning to HBO and other cable outlets that do not censor responsible storytelling.”

The network had been weighing which way to go with the scene for several weeks and had previewed it for members of the NBC affiliate advisory board in mid-January during a meeting in Las Vegas. At the time, board members had expressed concerns about the scene and whether it was essential to the drama, but no decision was rendered then. Affiliates later were told that Mr. Wells did not want to cut the scene.

But every station owner is feeling super-sensitive since Justin Timberlake exposed Janet Jackson’s breast at the end of the Super Bowl halftime show. Capitol Hill is pressuring the Federal Communications Commission to crack down on indecency on network TV and raise fines for violators by tenfold (a measure the White House endorses). One congressional hearing into the subject has been held, another is scheduled for next week and at least one more is pending.

Ironically, a repeat “ER” episode last week that included a glimpse of an elderly woman patient’s breast during a hectic scene in the emergency room all but went unnoticed.

In light of the new atmosphere of fear, even a tastefully done, full-on glimpse of an old woman’s bare breast in a network prime-time show inspires less academic and more fearful discussions and concerns, and the chief message from NBC affiliates had been that this is not the time to expose another breast.

Rocket Science Laboratories Creating New Makeover Series: Rocket Science Laboratories, the producer behind Fox’s “Joe Millionaire” and “My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance,” has put out a casting call for families to participate in a new makeover series. The hour-long series will chronicle families through a total makeover, which will include everything from home to wardrobe to dealing with major life issues. The show will air on Fox, with which Rocket Science has a first-look development deal, although Fox officials would not confirm the series order.

Strauss Named HBO President: HBO elevated Carolyn Strauss to the title of president, HBO Entertainment and Sheila Nevins to president, HBO Documentary and Family. Both were executive VPs. “Carolyn and Sheila have made extraordinary contributions to our programming over many years. Their creative instincts have been instrumental to our success and I wanted to acknowledge that with these promotions,” said Chris Albrecht, Chairman and CEO, in a statement.

Nielsen, TiVo Team to Provide Data: Nielsen Media Research and TiVo have agreed to collect and deliver information on use of the digital video-recording device to the television industry. The plan is to collect tuning data (no demographic data will be collected at the outset) by creating a fully consensual opt-in panel of TiVo’s stand-alone subscribers. A Nielsen spokesman said the size of the panel still is under discussion but it will consist of between 5,000 and 10,000 TiVo subscribers. The service will launch this year.

ESPN Cancels ‘Playmakers’: In the week after the NFL was embarrassed by the halftime show at the Super Bowl, ESPN said that pressure from the league factored into a decision to kill ESPN’s critically acclaimed first scripted series “Playmakers.”

“We have decided that “Playmakers” will not resume production. Many considerations went into to this decision, not the least of which was the reaction from a longtime and valued partner,” Mark Shapiro, ESPN executive VP, programming and production, said in a statement. “We are proud of the show on many levels-it was a creative and critical success, and we are appreciative that viewers clearly embraced this new genre on our network … so much so that we are actively engaged in pursuing our next drama.”

The series depicted a fictional pro football team whose members took drugs and chased women and whose owners took ethically and legally dubious actions.

NFL Cancels Chasez Performance: The NFL has taken one of its first actions in the wake of the controversy surrounding the Super Bowl halftime show by canceling a halftime performance by JC Chasez, a member of Justin Timberlake’s band *NSYNC, scheduled for this weekend’s Pro Bowl on ESPN.

Mr. Chasez was to sing “Blowin’ Me Up (With Her Love),” a song that appeared in the soundtrack of the 20th Century Fox movie “Drumline” in 2002.

“We thought it was over the top,” said NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy. “It was because of the song, and how we believed it was going to be choreographed. We wanted to go in a different direction.” Mr. McCarthy added that Mr. Chasez didn’t hold rehearsals at the Pro Bowl for the song.

The NFL is now featuring Hawaiian-theme entertainment during halftime to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Pro Bowl being played in Hawaii.

It’s possible Mr. Chasez will sing the national anthem at the game, Mr. McCarthy said.

The performance cancellation “was an NFL decision,” said a spokeswoman for Jive Records, Mr. Chasez’s record company.

The move follows last Sunday’s Super Bowl controversy in which singers Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake performed at halftime. At the end of a song, Mr. Timberlake ripped part of Ms. Jackson’s costume, revealing her right breast.

The Federal Communications Commission is considering action against CBS.

Tauzin Resigns as House Energy Chairman: Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., announced his resignation Tuesday night as chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, effective Feb. 16, clearing the way to consider a lucrative offer to head a pharmaceutical industry trad
e association. The congressman’s search for a job as a lobbyist in the private sector is no secret. He recently rejected an offer to succeed Jack Valenti as the Motion Picture Association of America’s chief-a post that comes with a $1 million salary. The pharmaceutical industry post is reportedly worth $2.5 million.

The watchdog group Public Citizen recently called for a conflict-of-interest investigation of the colorful congressman’s employment plans, pointing out that his committee oversaw major legislation last year that would benefit the pharmaceutical industry by creating a Medicare drug benefit. But Ken Johnson, Rep. Tauzin’s spokesman, said Wednesday that there will be no investigation. “No one at any time during the Medicare debate approached Billy about a position with the pharmaceutical association,” Mr. Johnson said. The leading contender to succeed Rep. Tauzin as the committee’s head is Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas. House leaders will determine Rep. Tauzin’s replacement.

Pegasus Repots Q4 Profit Increase: Satellite operator Pegasus Communications said Wednesday that its direct broadcast satellite business generated an 11 percent rise in operating profit for the fourth quarter, despite posting a 2 percent decline in revenues in the quarter.

The Bala Cynwyd, Pa.-based satellite operator mainly serving rural communities reported that operating profit hit $59.9 million in the quarter, compared with a year-earlier figure of $53.9 million. Revenue slipped to $212.8 million vs. $217.3 million a year earlier.

Free cash flow from the DBS operations surged 26 percent in the quarter to $50.7 million.