Bochco Under Fire

His racy NYPD Blue finally airs after a summer of controversy and a wave of affiliate defections

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ABC is quietly trying to downplay the show's racy content. The network sent its affiliates two episodes in addition to the pilot (neither segment has as much explicit material) and got Bochco to trim 15 seconds from the first show's lovemaking scene. ABC's Harbert says that scene is the "high benchmark" for what the series will allow; half the episodes, he promises, will have no nudity at all. "Given that our schedule is so dominated by family programming, such as Roseanne and Home Improvement, we felt there is room for a show that stretches the boundaries, so long as we inform the audience about what the show is doing."

What the show is doing, however, has scared off many affiliates -- more than have rejected any network show in recent memory. Most say they made their decision independently of Wildmon's organized campaign. Executives of WHAS in Louisville, Kentucky, decided not to run the show after screening it at an ABC affiliates' meeting in June. Says station manager George Hulcher: "The kind of product they showed us was not for broadcast television. It's for cable." Jan McDaniel, general manager of Wichita's KAKE, rejected the show after a torrent of anti-NYPD Blue letters and phone calls that followed local newspaper coverage of the controversy. Says McDaniel: "I received so many thoughtful expressions of frustration, I felt we had to take a stand."

Bochco expresses mystification at the response, pointing out that the show is mild compared with what the audience can see on cable and home videos. Indeed, he scaled back his original ambition -- to do TV's first R-rated show -- after long discussions with ABC over what the network would allow. "We gave a lot, and they gave a lot," he says. Still, NYPD Blue marks a small advance. "We have a new generation today," says Bochco. "What people watch is significantly more adult because they can access so much more. This show gave us some additional colors to paint our pictures." Those new colors may be startling to some, but they are a welcome alternative to the old, bland shade of network beige.

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