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PopPolitics: How NBC’s ‘State of Affairs’ Grappled With Scenes of ISIS-Like Videos (Listen)

State of Affairs Isis Video NBC

Dario Scardapane, executive producer of NBC’s “State of Affairs,” which debuts on Monday, says that they toned down a sequence in which a fictional terrorist organization releases a video in which they carry out the beheading of a British hostage.

The scene in the pilot actually was shot before last summer, when ISIS released videos of beheadings of American and British hostages, Scardapane said on Variety‘s “PopPolitics” on SiriusXM’s POTUS Channel. The political thriller series stars Katherine Heigl as a CIA analyst tasked with compiling the president’s daily briefing.

“We’ve gone through quite a wrestling match with ourselves and the network on whether to air, reshoot or recut that sequence because it is so close to reality, and the last thing we would want to do is turn tragedy into entertainment,” Scardapane said.

The scene in the pilot is somewhat graphic as the terrorist brandishes a knife and places it as the hostage’s neck. The beheading is not shown, but screams from the hostage are heard as the CIA analysts watch the video on their computer screens.

Nevertheless, even though the show is being cautious about fictional storylines that resemble real life events, Scardapane believes that audiences have come to accept shows and movies depicting the war on terror, including “Zero Dark Thirty” and Showtime’s “Homeland.” He says that such shows are “a way of people dealing with fear, quite honestly.”

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He says that the series is more cautious in depicting violence and other situations given that it is on broadcast television. It also never identifies whether the president, played by Alfre Woodward, is a Democrat or Republican. “We want to be mindful that there is a reality out there,” he says. He notes that they have also been trying to portray a balance of viewpoints.

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The CIA did cooperate with the show, in the form of access to locations and completed operations, he says. The series also will delve into the use of torture in interrogations — a hotwire issue on shows like “24” and “Zero Dark Thirty.”

Elizabeth Warren drew loud applause as she addressed a friendly crowd earlier this week in Beverly Hills: The ACLU of Southern California. “The game is rigged in Congress,” she told the audience, heavy on showbiz activists.

On The Mix, Variety‘s David Cohen and U.S. News’ Nikki Schwab talk about whether Warren will pose headaches for Hillary Clinton if she runs for president and seeks Hollywood support.

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Robin Bronk, executive director of the Creative Coalition, talks about the changing nature of celebrity activism, especially in an age where any controversial statement gets immediate reaction on Twitter and Drudge. Bronk is the editor of the recently published “The Art of Discovery.”

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Also this week:

“Selma” for the Season: Awards season is off and running, and one of the new contenders is “Selma.” Variety‘s Janelle Riley writes that audience reaction was “ecstatic” at the film’s AFI Fest premiere, with the movie likely to garner a best picture Oscar nom and a good shot for star David Oyelowo, as Martin Luther King Jr., to get a nod as best actor. Ava Duvernay would be the first African American woman to be nominated for best director.

The movie depicts the events leading up to King’s voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., with the 50th anniversary of “bloody Sunday” on March 7. Harry Belafonte was the talk of last week’s Academy Governors Awards. The 87-year-old cited an industry history of stigmatizing African Americans, Native Americans and other groups in his acceptance speech for the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. “And at the moment, Arabs aren’t looking so good,” he said. “Selma,” produced by Oprah Winfrey, looks to be just the type of movie he was talking about when he called on Hollywood to “see the better side of who we are as a species.”

Under the Astroturf: “Merchants of Doubt” is another movie that screened at AFI Fest that will get a big push in the coming weeks. The documentary depicts the spin machine that helped delay health warnings on cigarettes and the removal of toxic chemicals from household products and furniture. Director Robert Kenner uses the history of Astroturf groups and on-camera talking heads to show how the ability to create “doubt” in the public’s mind has been mastered when it comes to climate change.

Kenner said that he was inspired to make the movie when he made “Food Inc.” and saw groups like the Center for Consumer Freedom fighting food labeling. “It was this Orwellian world, and it was one hundreds of groups and it turned out to do opposite of what they sounded like,” he said. The movie debuts in theaters this weekend.

Angst Over Aiken Project: The producers of an Esquire Network documentary series about Clay Aiken’s campaign say that they made no deal with the “American Idol” runner-up and that he merely signed a release form. Aiken said that he agreed to allow the crew access to his campaign to provide more “transparency to to an electoral process desperately in need of more openness,” reports Karen Ocamb of Frontiers.

A group of donors at a September 30 fundraiser for Aiken in Los Angeles were upset over the announcement, just hours after Aiken lost his bid for a North Carolina congressional seat, that Esquire Network would be airing a documentary. The filmmakers were part of the event committee, Ocamb reports, but some donors, including organizer Steve Tyler, are angry that they were not told that they would be coming along with Aiken to the fundraiser to shoot at the event. Attendees who signed release forms were told that it was for a BBC project, according to Ocamb and others who were there. Some are asking that the L.A. event not be included in the finished product.

PopPolitics airs Thursdays at 2 p.m. ET/11 a.m. PT on SiriusXM’s POTUS Channel 124.