Ellen Gray | Will the FCC make an issue of 'War' language?

Posted: July 12, 2007

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif.- Who's afraid of the FCC?

Two months before the premiere of Ken Burns' series, "The War," PBS CEO Paula Kerger still isn't sure.

Though Kerger yesterday told the Television Critics Association that PBS would offer its affiliates unexpurgated and edited versions of the World War II series, she said she doesn't know yet how many stations would carry the edited version.

"I thought . . . that there would be more clarity" from the Federal Communications Commission by now about the use of certain language on broadcast TV (specifically, a word that's already gotten a pass during airings of "Saving Private Ryan" from an FCC whose makeup - and agenda - has changed since then).

"We got a lot of coverage of this documentary because it has four words in it - four out of 14 1/2 hours," she said, noting that two of those are used to explain the origins of "snafu" and "FUBAR."

Though the issue drew headlines at the TCA's winter meetings six months ago and still matters to many PBS affiliates, some of which could be crippled by an adverse FCC ruling and the accompanying fines, "that seems like the quaint old days," the PBS executive acknowledged.

That's because of pressure brought in the interim by Hispanic groups who were upset that Burns had not singled out the experience of Latino soldiers in his examination of World War II from the perspective of four American cities and towns: Sacramento, Calif; Waterbury, Conn; Mobile, Ala.; and Luverne, Minn.

In questioning Kerger, and later Burns, critics and reporters here, usually quick to lambaste networks on diversity issues, displayed little sympathy for the groups raising this particular one.

Admittedly, none of us - and none of Burns' critics - has yet seen the final version of "The War," which will incorporate some interviews and material he agreed to add at what in documentary terms could be considered the 11th hour.

Kerger was a bit vague on just what's entailed, Burns a little less so.

"We've produced some new material and included it at the end of three of the episodes that doesn't alter" what was largely completed more than a year ago, he said.

The added material, which will also include a Native American narrative, will run at the ends of episodes 1, 5 and 6, before the credits, Burns said.

It will add 28 to 29 minutes to the total length.

"It was, of course, painful to us on one level" that his work was being misinterpreted, "but we didn't have the luxury" of arguing for too long, Burns said, reminding reporters that World War II veterans are dying at the rate of about 1,000 a day.

Noting that Hispanics in America are "a group of people who for 500 years have had their story untold," he said, "We've done more than we were asked and were expected to . . . honoring our own interest in doing this right."

Asked if he expected that to be enough to satisfy his critics, he replied, "There are a lot of different people with a lot of different agendas and a lot of concerns."

Rather than try to address all of them, he said, the filmmakers "tried to hear . . . the larger question, and that's what we tried to respond to."

More life on Lifetime

Lifetime, already basking in the ratings success of "Army Wives," seems to have joined the movement to prove that there's intelligent life on TV (outside of CBS' "Big Brother" house, anyway).

Lifetime, already basking in the ratings success of "Army Wives," seems to have joined the movement to prove that there's intelligent life on TV (outside of CBS' "Big Brother" house, anyway).

Enter Lili Taylor, who, along with Kyra Sedgwick ("The Closer"), Holly Hunter ("Saving Grace") and FX's Glenn Close ("Damages"), is turning this into the Summer of the Actress.

In "State of Mind," a series premiering at 9 p.m. Sunday, Taylor stars as Dr. Ann Bellowes, a psychiatrist who's in need of help herself after she shows up for couples counseling to find her husband already on the couch - with their therapist.

The situation's textbook Lifetime (or would be if it turned out that the cheating hubby was also a serial killer), but what Taylor does with it isn't, and there's a speech about marriage toward the end of the pilot that very nearly redeems the cliched setup (which includes a dream sequence reminiscent of a commercial for a certain sleep aid).

That speech, along with a subplot involving one of Taylor's office mates (Derek Riddell) and the family of a child adopted from Russia, as well as the inclusion of "My So-Called Life" 's once-dweeby Devon Gummersall (all grown up and kind of cute), suggests "State of Mind" might just merit an hour a week on the couch.

I'm not quite there, though, with Lifetime's other new show, "Side Order of Life" (8 p.m. Sunday).

That stars the appealing Marisa Coughlan as Jenny, a magazine photographer who finds herself hallucinating, "Ally McBeal"-style, as her wedding day nears.

Jason Priestley plays her not-so-appealing fiance, but Diana-Maria Riva steals the show as Jenny's best friend, Vivy, who's been hiding a secret so big that as soon as she reveals it you're going to stop caring about Jenny's hallucinations.

It's just as well that I'm not working for Lifetime, because I'd probably have built the whole show around Vivy. *

Daily News TV critic Ellen Gray (graye@phillynews.com) is covering the Television Critics Association's summer meetings in Beverly Hills. For more, see her blog at go.philly.com/ellengray.

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