Published March 24, 2006
LOS ANGELES – Barry Levinson said he doesn't blame the WB network for airing a censored debut episode of his drama revolving around a college class on sexuality. He holds the Federal Communications Commission responsible.
"We don't believe that the show should have been edited, but the network is very fearful of what the FCC has been doing recently," Levinson said Thursday. "They're intimidating the networks and levying these fines, so the networks are not sure of what they can or can't do."
"The Bedford Diaries," set to premiere 9 p.m. EST Wednesday, will air minus scenes of two girls kissing and a girl opening her jeans, said Levinson, a prominent producer-director whose film credits include "Rain Man," "The Natural" and "Diner."
The network, which has used the Internet before to promote new series, is streaming a full, uncut version of the pilot on its Web site. The cast includes Matthew Modine, Milo Ventimiglia and Audra McDonald.
Last week, the government renewed its crackdown on what it considers indecency in television by proposing a total of $3.9 million in new fines, including a record $3.6 million fine involving the depiction of a teenage sexual orgy on CBS' "Without a Trace."
The FCC also upheld its $550,000 fine against CBS stations for Janet Jackson's 2004 Super Bowl flash of nudity.
Levinson said he and fellow executive producers Tom Fontana ("Homicide: Life on the Street," "Oz") and Julie Martin had already delivered what they and WB agreed was the final cut of "The Bedford Diaries" when the FCC fines prompted WB's second thoughts.
The producers refused to make further edits because they were "out of the bounds of logic we could understand," Levinson said.
"You can't even argue it," he said. "In its context, the show doesn't advocate any behavior. In fact, in many ways it talks about the responsibility of the individual. But the FCC doesn't look at anything in context. So, therefore, they're upset that two girls kissed, period."
"We can't point the finger at the network," he said. "The network is responding to governmental intimidation."
In a statement, the WB said it "takes its responsibility as a broadcast network very seriously and we have always been mindful of the FCC's indecency rules.
"While we believe that the previous version of 'The Bedford Diaries' is in keeping with those rules, out of an abundance of caution, we decided to make some additional changes" to the first episode, the network said.
Other episodes may be at risk, including one in which a teacher discusses sexual abstinence, Levinson said: The network is concerned that the FCC will consider only the sexual phrases and deem them indecent.
"We're living in absurdist times, that's all you can really say. You can't even give this real credibility," he said.
Federal law and FCC rules ban radio and over-the-air TV stations from airing obscene material, such as describing sexual conduct in a patently offensive way, at any time. The rules also bar stations from airing references to sex or excretions between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., when children might be more likely to watch.