WASHINGTON — NBC, the most stalwart defender of free speech in network television, is raising eyebrows with its decision to keep an episode of “Leeza” off the air because the show was too friendly to the idea that TV content ratings are a useful tool for parents.
The show was taped in May and there is no plan to put it on the schedule, NBC sources said. Aside from a terse statement issued Monday afternoon, NBC executives refused to comment on the decision to stifle the Paramount talker.
“It’s not unusual, especially in the world of daytime talkshows, to tape and not immediately air. There is no scheduled airdate for this episode.” the NBC statement said. The network will make an announcement if the show is put on the schedule.
Although NBC officials would not discuss their specific problems with the show, one source said there was a feeling at the network that the show was “unbalanced.”
The revelation comes just two weeks after NBC defiantly refused to sign on to an industry agreement to toughen the TV content code. NBC executives are refusing to adopt the new code because, they say, it tramples on the First Amendment rights of producers. Officials at Paramount, which produces “Leeza,” referred all calls to NBC. The show has not yet even been edited, sources said.
Although it is unusual that a distributor refuses to air an episode of a talkshow, it does happen. One source estimated that of all talkshows taped each year, fewer than 10 fail to make it on the air.
One media observer noted that NBC’s concerns about ensuring balance on “Leeza” is itself unusual. “There are many talkshows and talkshow topics that do not present a balanced view,” said David Walsh, executive director of the National Institute on Media and the Family. “I don’t think these shows always present a balanced view of the issues they are discussing.”
NBC’s “Leeza” decision caught the eye of some of television’s critics in Washington. Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) has contacted NBC seeking a copy of the stifled episode. “We were intrigued by the reports in the press,” a Lieberman aide said.
NBC’s decision to keep the “Leeza” episode off the air was first reported by the Washington Post.