Tuesday, June 21, 2011

It Depends On Who is Watching

I’ve been periodically checking out the new additions to our cable TV with the hope of finding some reason to watch them, and I‘ve noticed few things.

The durability of film stock – and just as importantly the willingness to hang on to old productions - has apparently come a long way over the years, judging by the number of movies shown on the This channel that I thought would have disappeared a long time ago. To be fair, I must say that at least some of them are as entertaining as some of the junk that gets played repeatedly on other cable channels, and they at least add a little variety.

Bravo and E! (the exclamation point hardly seems justified based on the product) have reminded me that almost anyone with a lack of shame can get a TV show, particularly if they can add some emotional instability.

E! has reminded me of something I’ve thought about in the past, though. I’ve occasionally come across Sex in the City reruns there, and I’ve noticed that their versions are edited differently - with a bit more risqué content left in - than the ones I saw on TBS. I’ve seen this before, most memorably with Caddyshack, which I have seen edited at least 4 distinctly different ways (on at least 6 different channels, which brings up another point: these days any halfway serviceable movie or TV series is distributed so broadly you can find some of them seemingly at any time of the day or night). One of these completely eliminated the candy-bar-in-the-pool scene, which requires a level of prudish thinking that I didn’t think still existed in the television industry.

I wonder who made those decisions? I know the networks have departments that handle it, and I assume cable channels have something similar. It’s also possible with a well-known movie like Caddyshack that they just took what the distributor offered them with a description of the changes that had been made.

On the other hand, I know it can be much less organized at the local station level. At KEVN years ago I was involved a couple of times in checking out a syndicated movie before it was aired. Both times we had to do some editing, and both times it was just two people making the calls, with no guidelines other than our personal tastes and a general knowledge of broadcasting standards.

I’d like to think the big boys have a more sophisticated process, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s not much more so, other than the likely involvement of lawyers. It’s never helped that FCC rules have long been “we know what is wrong when we see it”, which leads to a conservative approach, especially at local stations who can’t afford to risk the big fines.

In one case – a topless female corpse - the decision was simple. What to do about a scene in another movie involving a (very brief) shot of a power drill being used on someone’s hand was slightly less clear. We decided to take it out since the movie was to be aired on Thanksgiving afternoon, which shows how arbitrary the process was. It also says something about broadcast TV - boobs bad, torture maybe not – about which I’d best not get started.

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