Monday, March 15, 2004

PBS censors clamp down on Emma Goldman's nipple!
If there were any justice in the world, every major paper in the country would pick up the story below and run it under the headline suggested above. Sadly, only the tabloids would have the daring.

Even Buttoned-Down PBS Gets Caught in the Wringer
By Lisa de Moraes

Thursday, March 11, 2004; Page C07

Viacom CEO Sumner Redstone confided to investors this week that "a
woman's breast is not such a big deal" to him. We wish him a speedy

Ironic, isn't it, that thanks to Mr. Redstone's MTV and CBS, which
produced and aired, respectively, the little Super Bowl halftime number
that's come to be known as the Breast Heard Round the World, TV execs
all over the country have been engaged in vigorous debate about that
part of the female anatomy which no longer holds any interest for the
80-year-old Mr. Redstone.

Take PBS station WGBH, for example, where suits went back and forth
about how much cleavage to show in its upcoming "American Experience"
documentary "Emma Goldman."

You cannot expect to make a documentary about a colorful 20th-century
anarchist and advocate of free speech and free love -- a woman J. Edgar
Hoover once called one of the most dangerous people in America --
without including a little anarchy, a little free speech and a little
free love in the piece.

In calmer times, this would not be a problem.

But since Justin Timberlake unleashed Janet Jackson's right breast
during the Super Bowl halftime show and it began its scorched-earth
march through the TV industry, it's a big problem.

So the executive producer of "American Experience" agreed to cut a
couple of seconds of a scene re-creation in the documentary, in which
Goldman's lover is seen unbuttoning the front of her chemise, revealing
about as much cleavage as Susan Sarandon showed off in that black number
she wore to this year's Academy Awards.

According to "American Experience" executive producer Mark Samels,
during the normal finishing process this documentary, like all "American
Experience" documentaries, went to an attorney at WGBH for what's called
"errors and omissions" analysis. While screening the project, Samels
reports, the attorney raised concerns about the love scene.

Here is where Samels's version of what happened differs from that of the
public TV source who was among those who brought this to the attention
of The TV Column.

According to our source, the showing of cleavage was what knotted the
attorney's knickers; he thought it would be objectionable to the Federal
Communications Commission, which has been on a sort of shock-and-awe
campaign against TV smut -- at least the broadcast stuff -- since its
chief wandered in on the halftime show while watching the Super Bowl
with his family.

According to Samels, it wasn't the cleavage that had the attorney
grinding his teeth; it was the question of nipplage.

Mel Buckland, who wrote, produced and directed the documentary, declined
to comment for this article, nervously telling The TV Column that she
had been expressly told by folks at "American Experience" not to discuss
the situation and explaining that she was afraid of the career
consequences if she did talk to the press. (Just to refresh your memory:
This is still about a documentary on the life of a woman who lobbied in
this country, back in the early 1900s, for freedom of -- among other
things -- speech.)

Samels says the "American Experience" team assured the WGBH attorney
that there was no nipplage in the scene.

According to Samels, the attorney passed along the documentary to an
outside attorney who does work for WGBH on communications issues, for a
second opinion.

"That person also agreed that it looked like a full breast was exposed,
which was a pretty common-sense line of decency we haven't crossed,"
Samels explained.

However, a spokeswoman for "American Experience" with whom we spoke
yesterday afternoon said the outside attorney did not screen the
documentary; rather, the in-house attorney had described the scene in
question and the outside attorney advised that "he didn't perceive any
legal issues with it."

Back to Samels, who tells The TV Column that the "American Experience"
people "went back and did a frame-by-frame analysis, because we had only
looked at it 50 times while making it.

"I didn't see a fully exposed breast, and sure enough, there isn't," he

"What there is is a shadow of a blouse which gives the appearance of the
revealing of a nipple, the full breast."

That, he says, is why they agreed to remove what he calls 51 frames and
our source says is about two seconds of the love scene.

Samels insists, however, that even after the nip and tuck, there is
"enough cleavage to drive a truck through in this scene."

We will pause here for a minute while you try to get that image out of
your head.

Our public TV source and Samels do agree that it's pretty ironic that a
documentary about a woman who preached free love and free speech should
be mired in a discussion about whether it's okay to show a breast on TV.

"What I love about it is that it shows the country has never gotten away
from its Puritanical roots," Samels said. "Which once again calls for
exploration of American history. You can only understand who we are by
knowing how we got this way."

That, of course, is a shameless plug for "American Experience," which
bills itself as television's longest-running history series.

Oh well, that's showbiz.

Note: The American Experience documentary on Emma Goldman airs on Mon.,
April 12. Check out the website for more information.]

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