Bochco cuts ‘Blue’ scene

Producer Steven Bochco has agreed to cut 15 seconds from a love-making scene in his controversial new drama “NYPD Blue” at the request of ABC, which felt the shot “lingered with those people in bed a little bit too long,” according to ABC TV Network Group president Robert Iger.

Addressing TV writers on Sunday, Bochco, whose outspokenness on the need to broaden content standards made him a feast for scribes — who’ve nibbled on the issue the past two weeks — stressed that the change wouldn’t defuse other concerns about the show and said there would be no further alterations in regard to language.

Bochco added that violence, the hottest topic of the current press tour, wouldn’t be a major issue relating to “Blue.”

“‘Hill Street Blues’ was a significantly more violent show than this one will ever be,” he said, maintaining that violence is gratuitous if it doesn’t depict the consequences of such actions.

ABC officials said after the session that the show has sold surprisingly well in the upfront advertising market compared to their initial predictions, selling more spots at a higher per-unit price (reportedly into six figures, reasonably good for a one-hour drama) than had been anticipated.

Still, Iger acknowledged that ABC would take a significant financial hit on “Blue” relative to fully sponsored programs if it aired at its current ad level. The exec said movie companies have supported the program but declined to specify which ones to protect advertisers from pressure campaigns. The gritty hour was initially seen by some as an ideal vehicle for studios wishing to tout action-oriented, male-appeal features.

During a separate session Saturday, ABC exec VP of research, marketing & promotion Peter Chrisanthopoulos said the web’s upfront sales are running at least 10% ahead of last year, totaling more than $ 1 billion. The summer courting ritual has gone slowly this year, with many predicting the overall market would be flat or show at best a slight increase.

“NYPD Blue” is scheduled to premiere Sept. 21, and ABC won’t know how many stations will clear the show for a few weeks. “I would personally hope the affiliates would have the courage to let their viewers make that judgment (whether the material is too strong) for themselves,” Bochco said.

Bochco also turned the tables on reporters, accusing them of making the show’s content an issue. Although he quipped that “we’ll take our attention anywhere we can get it,” the producer denied seeking controversy to generate publicity, calling the sort of furor surrounding the series “a double-edged sword.”

“Blue” will carry a viewer-discretion advisory on an episode-by-episode basis , though it’s expected the material will warrant a label on virtually every hour based on the creative license Bochco has been given.

Asked why he needed to push those boundaries, Bochco reiterated his belief that such a show can no longer compete with cable programs “unless you can paint with some of the colors” available to feature filmmakers. He added that the racier material “wouldn’t mean a thing if we made a lousy show.”

“It opens things for us (creatively) that weren’t available before,” said exec producer David Milch, like Bochco a “Hill Street” alumnus. Producers wouldn’t discuss the parameters on their use of nudity but said it was “tasteful” in the pilot and would continue to be so.

On Saturday, ABC also presented research supporting the web’s decision to superimpose its logo on the screen during programs, saying less than 10% of viewers objected to the practice.

In addition, an ABC survey found that 70% of viewers are predisposed to sample programs on a given network if they believe it has the best programs and that 47% of “frequent” or “occasional” viewers of a series can identify it with its network or local station.

“This really explains why this (brand) strategy is so important,” Chrisanthopoulos said, maintaining that network ID offers upside potential with “virtually no downside” in terms of alienating viewers.

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