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Harbert tells IRTS that a TV kiss is still a kiss

During the annual gabfest of the four network entertainment heads sponsored by the Intl. Radio & TV Society last Friday, ABC Entertainment prexy Ted Harbert issued the network’s first public comments about a controversial gay kiss on an upcoming “Roseanne” episode.

“We have been very supportive of the episode from the beginning,” Harbert said, adding that the network has been in ongoing discussions with the producers over how the kiss — between Roseanne Arnold’s character and a lesbian played by Mariel Hemingway — will be depicted.

“I actually believe the show will air,” he said.

ABC had previously remained mum regarding the show, despite criticism of the web and claims the episode might not air from exec producer Tom Arnold and subsequently the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (Daily Variety, Feb. 8).

The episode is tentatively scheduled to air March 1, the last Tuesday of the February sweeps.

Other topics at the Waldorf Astoria event, sparsely attended due to severe winter weather, included Howard Stern’s TV future, violence on television and depictions of minorities on TV.

Stern talk

NBC’s Warren Littlefield fired off the first of the afternoon’s many zingers when asked about the possibility of which network would “do Howard Stern” in a latenight talk slot. “I think Mrs. Stern will probably be the only one doing Howard Stern, latenight,” he quipped.

The mood turned more serious when the entertainment toppers were quizzed on the violence issue. ABC’s Harbert deflected criticism of the networks, citing a recent study indicating that “eight syndicated shows have 33% more violence” than all network fare combined.

Likewise, Fox Entertainment Group prez Sandy Grushow forcefully defended the four webs by taking aim at critics: “To use the four of us as scapegoats won’t solve the problem” of violence.

Littlefield weighed in on the issue by referring to his web’s Sunday movie, “Witness to the Execution,” which received a cold shoulder from many advertisers. The anti-violence crusade might have a chilling effect on producers of similar fare, he said.

CBS Entertainment boss Jeff Sagansky also reiterated his criticism of the way TV treats minority characters, particularly Hispanics and the elderly. He pointed out that less than 1% of all characters on TV are Hispanic, and stressed that those featured “are depicted as thugs and criminals.”

As for the elderly, Sagansky said, “Most are depicted as the butt of a joke or as a problem for the rest of the family … because they’re not important in commercial terms.”

The New York audience was heartened to hear NBC’s promise of “increasing the level of production” in Gotham. The Peacock web shoots “Law & Order” and “The Cosby Mysteries” in New York, and will do the same on its latest Gene Wilder pilot.

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