PBS cuts HBO pix to avoid FCC wrath

'War,' 'April' will have nudity and language removed

PBS will censor two upcoming films given to the pubcaster by HBO in an effort to protect local public TV stations from potential FCC fines, prexy Pat Mitchell told critics at the winter press tour.

A scene in HBO’s “Dirty War” will be edited to omit a naked woman being decontaminated in the aftermath of a “dirty bomb” attack on London. In “Sometimes April,” a film about the 1994 Rwandan genocide, PBS will cut a salty expletive Vice President Dick Cheney used on the Senate floor.

The censored films are among the three given to PBS by HBO for airing after they run on the cabler. HBO gave the pubcaster rights to the films in order to gain a wider audience for them. HBO reaches some 30% of the American public, while PBS reaches nearly 99%.

The third film, “Yesterday,” about a young African mother with AIDS, will not be censored.

“Cable doesn’t have to live with those (FCC) regulations — we do,” Mitchell said.

Fines would put financially strapped local PBS stations at risk and discourage some from carrying the pics, PBS programming exec Jacoba Atlas said Saturday.

Mitchell announced progress on PBS fund-raising, saying the pubcaster would announce a “substantial gift” next month. The major contribution is the first to the newly created PBS Foundation, a national fund-raising effort that solicits only big-money gifts in order to keep from competing with the local affiliates’ funding drives.

The foundation is the main fund-raising mechanism for the pubcaster’s planned digital channel, PBS Public Square, which would pipe PBS programming to TVs, computers and handheld devices using spare broadcast spectrum held by local stations.

PBS is looking to the FCC auctions of new spectrum as an opportunity to create a permanent endowment, but Mitchell said with the ballooning federal budget deficit, “Our biggest competition for the funds is going to be the government itself.”

Amid the announcements of new programming at the press tour, director Martin Scorsese took questions on authorized Bob Dylan documentary “No Direction Home,” which chronicles the music icon’s most prolific period, from 1961, when he arrived in Greenwich Village, to 1966, when he dropped out of public life.

Program is scheduled for two nights in July, but Scorsese seemed to think three parts or more may be necessary if not inevitable. “It’s a very tough call,” he said of the process of editing down seminal performances. “There are some things that are just so beautiful.”

Film will include never-before-seen footage from Dylan’s manager and archivist, as well as parts of a 10-hour interview. PBS owns all the rights to broadcast the material, and producer Susan Lacy said PBS may release DVD versions with the outtakes.

Other programs announced include a new half-hour version of Alan Alda-hosted “Scientific American Frontiers,” and the first “American Experience” on a non-American: Fidel Castro. Latter premieres Jan. 31.