Here are some late election returns: Local stations are running scared on program content.
So while “Saving Private Ryan” got strong ratings in its initial airing, ABC affils repping more than 35% of the country have told the net they won’t air tonight’s encore broadcast of Steven Spielberg’s D-Day epic.
The scheduled preemptions come even though most, if not all, of the stations now balking at running Steven Spielberg’s D-Day epic have aired it in the past. Pic, which contains more than three dozen utterances of the word “fuck,” must air its unedited form, as per ABC’s license agreement with DreamWorks.
But with the FCC and Congress threatening blockbuster fines for stations that air indecent material before 10 p.m., a slew of station groups have told ABC they don’t want to take a chance on viewers complaining to the FCC. The preemptions come even though in 2002, the FCC — responding to a complaint about the pic from activist Donald Wildmon — ruled “Saving Private Ryan” wasn’t indecent.
ABC’s affiliate relations department was said to be working overtime to get some stations back on board. Industry insiders suggested several major station groups have ordered their affils not to air “Ryan,” but that some local stations are balking at the group decision. As a result, it’s possible the number of preemptions will ultimately fall below the 35% level.
“Ryan” did boffo Nielsen numbers when it bowed on ABC in November 2001, and it also did well in 2002. With so many preemptions, ABC’s already low Thursday ratings could fall off a cliff, hurting the net during the all-important November sweeps.
While affils from some stations say they’re not sure they can risk airing “Ryan” in the current political environment, others, including Pappas-owned KHGI in Lincoln, Neb., argue preempting the pic is a public service.
“Pappas has decided that the interests of the viewers of KHGI, in the Lincoln-Hastings-Kearney, Neb., market, are best served by preempting this program,” read a statement released by the company. “Pappas Telecasting and its management have been in the forefront of regulatory efforts to eliminate profanity, indecency and gratuitous violence from network programming, particularly during times when children may be watching. Moreover, as is evidenced by recent decisions of the Federal Communications Commission, stations that air network programming with indecent or profane content are subject to significant fines and the threat of license revocation.”
But Ray Cole, prexy of Citadel Communications, said he pulled “Ryan” from his three ABC stations in Iowa and Nebraska because of fear of fines.
“Under strict interpretation of the rules, we can’t run that programming before 10 p.m.,” Cole told the Associated Press. “We have attempted to get an advanced waiver from the FCC and, remarkably to me, they are not willing to do so.”
While the stations didn’t get any complaints about “Ryan” the last two times it aired, Cole cited Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl peepshow and last week’s election as reasons for keeping “Ryan” off the air.
“We’re just coming off an election where moral issues were cited as a reason by people voting one way or another and, in my opinion, the commissioners are fearful of the new Congress,” Cole said.
Ironically, the Parents Television Council, a conservative group that regularly decries so-called “indecent” material on TV, said it’s in favor of ABC airing “Ryan” as is.
“Context is everything,” PTC topper Brent Bozell said in a statement. “We agreed with the FCC on its ruling that the airing of ‘Schindler’s List’ on television was not indecent and we feel that ‘Saving Private Ryan’ is in the same category. In both films, the content is not meant to shock, nor is it gratuitous.”
ABC declined to comment on the affil defections, instead issuing a statement noting the pic will carry numerous parental advisories. Sen. John McCain also taped a new introduction to the movie.
Alphabet execs had tried to avoid a brouhaha over “Ryan.”
Pic was set to air in May, around Memorial Day. But after the Jackson incident, ABC execs decided to push the encore airing to November — after the election.
DreamWorks marketing exec Marvin Levy said the studio has always been upfront about the fact that “Ryan” may not be appropriate for younger viewers.
“It’s always been an R-rated movie, and it’s up to parents to decide whether they want their younger generation to watch,” he said. “But it’s a shame if they don’t even have the opportunity to make that choice. It could be part of the overreaction that’s going on.”