David 23 Mar 2006 from the new york times WB Censors Its Own Drama for Fear of F.C.C. Fines By BILL CARTER Concerned about the recent decision by the Federal Communications Commission to fine television networks for material deemed indecent, the WB network will broadcast a new drama next week that it has censored over the objections of the program's creator. But first, the network will offer the uncut version of the pilot episode on its Web site, starting today a further example of the new strategies network television may be pursuing, both to escape government-imposed restrictions and to find alternative ways of reaching viewers. It is the first time a network has offered on another outlet an uncut version of a program it has been forced to censor. The show, "The Bedford Diaries," was created by Tom Fontana, whose long résumé includes award-winning shows like "St. Elsewhere" and "Homicide" for network television and the far more graphic prison drama "Oz" for HBO, a pay-cable channel with no content restrictions. The pilot episode of "The Bedford Diaries," which concerns a group of college students attending a class on human sexuality, had already been accepted by WB's standards department. After the F.C.C. decision last week to issue millions of dollars in fines against broadcast stations, the network's chairman, Garth Ancier, contacted Mr. Fontana and asked him to edit a number of specific scenes out of the show, including one that depicted two girls in a bar kissing on a dare and another of a girl unbuttoning her jeans. "I said no," Mr. Fontana said in an interview Wednesday. "I told him I found the ruling incomprehensible. He said the censor would do the edit." The decision, several network executives said yesterday, could represent a further step in the spread of alternative means for television programs to reach viewers, including iPods and computers. It could also increase the risk that network television will be seen as passé by some of its audience, especially younger viewers. "The message here is that they'll be forced to go alternative ways of looking at shows if they want to see the real thing," Mr. Fontana said. "It's like they're telling people that broadcast television now has much less interesting stuff than you see on the Web or cable." WB executives acknowledged that the decision to censor Mr. Fontana's new show was entirely driven by concerns raised by the fines the F.C.C. levied last week against television stations for broadcasting programs it called indecent. The commission ordered by far the biggest fine, $3.6 million, for 111 stations affiliated with or owned by CBS, for an episode of the crime drama "Without a Trace" that contained a scene depicting teenagers engaged in sex. CBS protested the fine and said the show was not indecent. Mr. Fontana praised Mr. Ancier for being "a thorough professional and complete gentleman" about the issue. He said he had no problem at all with WB's decision, conceding that the network had to do what it believed was necessary to avoid being fined. But he added, "In more than 20 years in the business, this is the most chilling thing I've ever faced." In a statement, Mr. Ancier said: "The WB takes its responsibility as a broadcast network very seriously and we have always been mindful of the F.C.C.'s indecency rules. While we believe that the previous uncut version of 'The Bedford Diaries' is in keeping with those rules, out of an abundance of caution, we decided to make some additional minor changes to the premiere episode of the series, which is set to debut next Wednesday, March 28. We also decided to make the original version available on the Internet at TheWB.com, which allows those interested in seeing the producer's creative vision to do so while at the same time recognizing the special rules that apply to the broadcast medium." In a telephone interview, Mr. Ancier said the network respected the effort Mr. Fontana had made to produce a show that was both creatively interesting and socially responsible. "Our feeling was that Tom had worked very hard with our standards people and they came up a final edit of the show which we all had found acceptable," he said. The uncut version of the "Bedford Diaries" pilot will be available on the WB site beginning at 3 p.m. Eastern time today, a network spokesman said. The decision to offer it on the Web was less complicated for WB because it has twice before offered previews of new series on the Internet though in both those cases the network versions of the shows were identical to the Web versions, not censored. Those previews were offered for promotional value, and the network considered them highly successful in generating initial interest in the two series, "Jack and Bobby" and "Supernatural." Promotional value is all the network can realize from streaming the uncut episode of 'The Bedford Diaries" on its Web site, because it will run without commercials. The Hollywood creative guilds do not permit a commercial use of the program online. Network executives said yesterday that the industry was still working through what impact the threat of heavy fines from the F.C.C. will have on the content of coming shows. One senior network program executive said it would now be unlikely that a show with the subject matter of "The Bedford Diaries" would be ordered by a network. Asked whether this might lead to the diversion of more network programming to other distribution outlets, Mr. Ancier said: "It's a really good question. I just don't know."