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WGBH Shows Go On

WGBH-TV Boston is opening something of a side business in alternate programming.

According to WGBH-TV spokeswoman Lucy Sholley, PBS has gotten requests from 48 stations for the unedited version of Frontline documentary A Company of Soldiers, about the Iraq war. The show was slated for a Tuesday-night airing.

Some of those stations were planning to move the 9 p.m. feed to 10, after the start of the FCC's safe harbor for indecent broadcasts. Some already slate it at 10. WGBH was airing it at nine.

Frontline producers at WGBH had given two versions of the show to PBS for distribution, one with the swearing and one with the F-words and S-words edited out (a common post-Janet Jackson practice apparently), though the producers had requested that PBS feed the unedited to stations as a sign that it would not be pushed around by the FCC and that it was letting stations decide.

PBS did let them decide, but fed the edited version to everyone and required that anyone who wanted the unedited had to both ask for it and sign a waiver so the FCC wouldn't come knocking on PBS' door.

WGBH-TV producers assured PBS that they had vetted the show with attorney,s who concluded it would pass muster with the commission given the language was in context, which was the heat of battle.

The FCC signaled after the flap over some ABC affiliates pulling a Veteran's Day airing of Saving Private Ryan that it did not have a problem with the language in that show.

But PBS has had trouble in the past with a hard-fed, hard-language show (The Gin Game) slipping by some stations accidentally, so decided caution was the better part of valor in the case of Company of Soldiers.

On another front, Sholley says 46 stations have so far requested copies of the controversial episode of kids show, Postcards From Buster.

PBS decided not to even distribute that episode, "Sugar Time," after it, and the Department of Education that funds the majority of the series, had reservations about the lesbian couples featured in Buster's visit to Vermont for a maple sugar primer.

WGBH, along with a handful of other stations, went ahead and aired the show anyway Feb. 2. The 46 takers have three years in which to air it if they choose, said Sholley.

PBS is still waiting to hear from DOE on future funding for Buster. That news was expected in January, as were new guidelines on DOE funding of kids shows, but no word yet.

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.