PBS miniseries comes in regular, sanitized editions

TURNED ON IN L.A. -- Spring Preview

January 06, 1994|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Television Critic

PASADENA, CALIF. — Pasadena, Calif.-- Nudity, profanity and drugs are not usually the stuff of drama on public television.

But they will be next week when PBS broadcasts "Tales of the City," a six-hour miniseries that revolves around the eclectic residents of a rambling old apartment house in the heart of San Francisco during the 1970s. It's an ambitious adaptation of the novels of Armistead Maupin with a cast that includes Olympia Dukakis and Chloe Webb.

The miniseries doesn't start until Monday, but the controversy is already well under way. It started this week when some PBS stations, such as WDCN in Nashville, said they wouldn't air the miniseries unless PBS does some serious editing of it.

Yesterday, PBS officials, as well as producers and stars of the show, met with reporters here to say they will offer PBS stations both an edited and an uncut version of the miniseries, allowing each station to decide which it will air.

Dukakis defended PBS' decision to offer an edited version by saying, "I think the decision is understandable and it takes into consideration the very sensitive issue of what is acceptable in various parts of the country.

"It involves public funds, and PBS needs to be sensitive to those issues," Dukakis said.

Dukakis tried to minimize the amount of editing that will be done. But Lindsay Law, the executive producer of the American Playhouse series, confirmed it will be noticeable, changing what viewers see and hear.

In one scene of the uncut version, for example, Webb is shown topless. In the edited one, her chest will be blurred through a process called pixilation. It is the process used to mask the facial features of some witnesses during televised courtroom trials. Law also said there will be numerous deletions of four-letter words and other forms of profanity. "There's a trade-off here, because I'd like as many people to see the story as possible," Maupin said. "If a local affiliate decides not to run it at all, then people in that area of the country are deprived of seeing the film.

"So, something like the pixilation is a good compromise . . . if it means more people will see it.

"I think people are going to look at the blurring of her breasts and think how silly it is and wonder what is it that's so potent about a woman's breast that it can't be shown on TV."

For her part, Webb said she wasn't troubled by the editing either.

PBS officials said they won't know who is running which version or no version at all until "after the fact" next week.

Maryland Public Television said yesterday it plans to run the uncut version at 10 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. "That decision was made with much thought going into it," said Susan Baukhages, a spokeswoman for MPT. "And there will probably be some next week not be pleased with our decision."

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