It must be pretty difficult to de-emphasize the sex in a TV show about sex. But the WB is gonna try.
When The Bedford Diaries premieres Wednesday at 9 p.m., viewers will be seeing a toned-down version of the show's pilot, which has been edited for fear it would incur the wrath of a punishment-happy FCC.
"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," Barry Levinson, the show's executive producer, told reporters 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 centers on a group of college students who make home videos for a human sexuality class through which they discuss their feelings and habits regarding, well, sex. While the tapes are obviously not of the Pamela-Tommy Lee variety, the powers that be at the WB fear the matter-of-factness with which the young adults speak about sex, virginity, peer pressure and a host of other real-world issues may be too much for broadcast watchdogs to bear.
The premiere episode will air minus a scene of two girls kissing and another of a girl unbuttoning her jeans. Producers have refused to make further edits, Levinson said. The uncut version of the pilot, which already had passed the test of the WB's standards department, is now available to watch on the WB's Website.
"The message here is that [viewers will] be forced to go alternative ways of looking at shows if they want to see the real thing," The Bedford Diaries creator Tom Fontana told the New York Times. "It's like they're telling people that broadcast television now has much less interesting stuff than you see on the Web or cable."
Spooked by the FCC's multimillion-dollar crackdown on broadcast indecency last week, WB Chairman Garth Ancier approached Fontana about suppressing some of Bedford's more scintillating scenes. Ancier was "a thorough professional and complete gentleman" regarding the request, Fontana said, adding that he knew Ancier did what he had to do to protect the network from being fined.
Levinson, the veteran writer-director-producer behind films such as Wag the Dog and the TV show Homicide: Life on the Street, has said that he doesn't blame the network for imposing changes to his show. Instead, he holds the government responsible for what he views as a complete overreaction to The Bedford Diaries' content.
"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... We're living in absurdist times, that's all you can really say."
The FCC's recent gung-ho attitude toward fining networks for airing indecent content certainly doesn't bode well for a show whose entire premise is wrapped up in teaching sex-ed. A future episode of The Bedford Diaries, for instance, will feature a teacher discussing sexual abstinence. It would be rather absurd to get fined for airing the message that teens should wait to have sex, but? it's not what's said that counts, it's how the FCC reacts to what's said.
Whether The Bedford Diaries gets through a full season full of educational sex talk is still a question of whether it can find a spot on the newly formed CW network, which will be picking up only some of the WB and UPN's existing programming.
One of the show's hot young stars, Milo Ventimiglia (bad-boy Jess from Gilmore Girls), has reportedly signed another pilot deal, which leaves his place in Bedford looking suspiciously vacant.
In the meantime, while the WB tries to keep its new show out of hot water before the network even knows if there's a pot to cook it in, other stations are reeling from last week's FCC rulings on hundreds of thousands of indecency complaints.
CBS received the top honor, with 111 of its stations receiving a $3.6 million fine for airing a December 2004 episode of the Top 10 show Without a Trace that featured teens partaking in an after-school orgy. Another $300,000 in fines was dispersed among other networks, and the agency upheld the $550,000 fine slapped on CBS in 2004 for unintentionally airing Janet Jackson's breast to Super Bowl viewers in 2003.