The show hasn’t even been broadcast yet, and the WB’s The Bedford Diaries is already part of the controversial news about the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). This week, the US regulatory body levied fines on CBS’s Without a Trace for a teen orgy scene that showed no naughty bits and that was part of a storyline emphasizing the need for parental supervision, while leaving Oprah unscathed for a show on teen sex parties that used explicit language to describe oral and anal sex.
The good news is that the networks are mad enough to fight the fines, in what The Progress and Freedom Foundation, for one, sees as a possible beginning of the end for federal regulation of broadcast content, regulation that protects viewers and listeners who haven’t mastered the off button, the concepts of changing the channel or taking the television out of their children’s bedrooms, or the V-Chip. From the PFF’s blog:
“Broadcasters will have a strong case when they get the rules in court. The FCC has steadily increased the scope of its indecency enforcement policy over the past 15 years and created a regulatory regime that is about as clear as mud.”
The Bedford Diaries is riding on the coattails of this news because it is currently available for viewing over the Internet in its uncut form, but the WB has announced that a censored version, clipped of brief shots of two women kissing and a woman opening her jeans, will be broadcast on Wednesday.
“They’re intimidating the networks and levying these fines, so the networks are not sure of what they can or can’t do,” Bedford producer Barry Levinson said.
“We can’t point the finger at the network,” [Levinson] 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.
I don’t quite buy the “blame the FCC” party line. Those particular cuts weren’t dictated by the FCC, they were dictated by the network’s fear of what the FCC might do. But the two cuts don’t mirror the scenes the FCC objected to in the latest round of fines. Two women kissing? Yawn. The unzipping-the-jeans scene is a quick shot to suggest a woman about to masturbate, with no explicit visuals or audio accompanying it. And while most news articles are calling her a “girl,” these are university students. Adults. And wait … is masturbation bad again? There is definitely salacious content in The Bedford Diaries, but those two snips are either cowardice or genius.
Maybe the WB really won’t risk even the remote possibility of a fine. Maybe it was a demonstration of the futility of regulating TV when the same content can be offered on the FCC-unregulated Internet. Maybe they were hoping to hop on a hot news story to shine a spotlight on their new show.
And what about the show itself, beyond the controversy? It’s about university students taking a human sexuality class, which in itself is likely to draw the watchful eyes of groups like the American Family Association who foam at the mouth over sexuality but show no signs of froth at depictions of torture on prime time’s 24, for example.
These characters are shiny, smug young adults who don’t resemble anyone I’ve ever met, participating in fast-paced scenes trying too hard to be sexy, and cut with the students’ video diaries created for the class. It’s not terrible, it’s just not terribly new or interesting.
Canadian viewers might recognize the human sexuality class concept from our Showcase series Naked Josh, and there is a similarity in the classroom scenes presided over by Matthew Modine as the professor. But he’s not the central character, he’s one of a large ensemble focusing on the students, so there’s not much similarity in the execution of the concept.
But see for yourself before you buy the hype or my ennui. You can see the uncensored pilot on the WB website, or watch the edited version March 29 at 9 on the WB.
“Talking about sex in a classroom setting is a very volatile thing,” Modine’s character is told in the pilot. You think that’s bad? Try talking about it on television.