TELEVISION Skittish PBS censors films
In the post-Janet Jackson era, the network is understandably nervous about nudity.
By ROB OWEN
LOS ANGELES -- Last week premium cable channel HBO announced it will donate three HBO-made films to PBS, where they'll make their broadcast network premiere.
"Dirty War," airing on HBO Jan. 24, tells the fictional story of a radiological "dirty" bomb attack in London and will air on PBS Feb. 23. "Sometimes in April," airing on HBO in March and on PBS in April, recounts the 1994 Rwandan genocide. "Yesterday," a story of AIDS in Africa, will be scheduled on both channels later this year.
Sounds like a win-win situation, right? Non-HBO subscribers will get the chance to see three movies that, given the usually high-quality pedigree of HBO movies, are probably pretty good.
Ah, but we live in a post-Janet Jackson "wardrobe malfunction" world, one where the Federal Communications Commission is cracking down to the point of scaring some stations out of airing "Saving Private Ryan" in November.
Consequently, PBS has to make some cuts to the movies. PBS will air a BBC-edited international version of "Dirty Bomb" that deletes an f-word, a full frontal shot of a naked woman being decontaminated and a terrorist's use of an explicit sexual phrase.
Similar minor cuts are being made to the other films.
"We take very seriously keeping our stations from being liable," said PBS president Pat Mitchell. She acknowledged that FCC guidelines on what is not appropriate are not as clear as she and other broadcasters would like them to be.
"When [the FCC guidelines are not] hard and fast and totally clear-cut, you do find yourself second-guessing. And that's why you ended up with that 'Saving Private Ryan' situation."
But PBS is taking a risk and is willing to endure the wrath of the FCC when it comes to "Auschwitz: Inside the Nazi State" (9 tonight). In a re-enacted scene taken from a historical transcript, PBS will allow a scatological term to air in a scene where a Nazi soldier berates a Jew.
"In fiction, creative choices can be made," said Jacoba "Coby" Atlas, PBS co-chief program executive. "But something in the public record, that's different."
One cut is being made to "Auschwitz": A single human being, who is naked, will not be shown.
"We made the decision that you do not need to exploit this person and see this single naked person," Atlas said. "That was a very tough call that we made, and honorable people could feel differently about it, but it is this one particular piece of footage, and it's not the vast scenes."