NBC sanitizes 'Sisters' so viewers --and advertisers--won't flinch


May 10, 1991|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

It's pretty unusual for a network to simply whack off the opening scene of a new series. It's like ripping the first two pages out of a novel.

But that's what happened with the pilot of the new NBC series, "Sisters," which debuts at 10 Saturday night on WMAR-TV (Channel 2). And what you won't see is the most interesting thing to happen in the hour-long show.

Or at least the most adult.

There's nothing shocking about the scene, which NBC has decided to censor. All it involves is three of the four adult Reed sisters sitting in a steam room talking about multiple orgasms.

Talking. Wearing towels. They're covered up to their chinny chin chins. Well, nearly to their necky neck necks anyway. And it's talk about numbers --specifically, the numbers of multiple orgasms they have had -- not about body parts or physical acts.

NBC showed the pilot with the opening scene to critics in January, and some of them thought it shocking. (It should be pointed out that 90 percent of these critics were men, most of them middle-aged.)

So NBC, facing some bad press and nervous advertisers, has decided to spare America the scandal of hearing adult women talking about sex, saying: "After much consideration, NBC has determined the need to edit the opening scene in order to respond to certain constituencies of the network that would find elements of the opening dialogue offensive."

Remember that when the next figures for increased viewership for cableare reported.

Otherwise, the series -- starring Swoosie Kurtz, Julianne Phillips, Patricia Kalember and Sela Ward as the Reed sisters -- is not exactly ground-breaking.

In the pilot, they're helping Mom, who is a widow, move out of the family home and into a condo. There are so many flashbacks to when they were children that you may mistake this for a Kodak commercial.

In fact, "Sisters" has the look and feel of something cooked up by an advertising agency. The house, which is the central setting, looks as if it has been used in several commercials. Viewers may spot places in the yard where riding mowers and hedge shears were demonstrated.

And the sisters range in age from about 25 -- that's Phillips -- to about 40 -- that's Kurtz. Women aged 25 to 49 are the bull's-eye of TV demographics, the primo target of advertisers.

Mom, played by Elizabeth Hoffman, is over 60. That's probably why she's being moved off stage, out of the suburban-pastoral, white-picket-fence home: She's committed the great TV sin of aging into a less desirable demographic category.

The formula of the show is essentially soap opera, nighttime variety. So you see a lot of folks chatting over cups of coffee, lots of women in nightgowns talking about family matters.

One husband is also shown in a bathrobe a lot. He's singing rock 'n' roll songs in the living room, while "resting" from the job market, his wife explains. He's stressed out and kind of incapacitated.

In fact, most of the men are incapacitated one way or another in "Sisters." Who needs men anyway when all the Reed sisters have male names? Kurtz is Alex, Kalember is Georgie, Ward is Teddy and Phillips is Frankie. They were so named by their late father, we are told, because he wanted boys.

Hey, on second thought, you think we might have a feminist text here?


The other "big" plot development besides Mom's move is that Frankie is sleeping with Teddy's ex-husband, played by Ed Marinaro. But Teddy isn't quite ready to "let go" yet.

If this is feminist, "General Hospital" is enlightened.

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