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Tuned In: NBC gives 'ER' a breast reduction

Thursday, February 05, 2004

By Rob Owen, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Another day, another boob-tube controversy brews. Following Sunday's Janet Jackson breast-baring during the Super Bowl halftime show, tonight's "ER" (10 p.m., NBC) was scheduled to include a view of an elderly female patient's bare breast.

Yesterday NBC told affiliates the woman's scene remains, but the most explicit shot will not air.

Of course, this potentially bare breast was in a different context from the flash of flesh that aired on the Super Bowl. None of the "ER" docs was expected to sing, "I'll have you naked by the end of this exam."

If Jackson's exposure is analogous to Playboy, "ER's" bare breast -- on the first night of sweeps -- was probably more akin to National Geographic.

In the scene, an elderly woman is brought in with whooping cough. As the doctors try to save her, "a little bit of her breast" shows, an NBC spokeswoman said. "It's not salacious in any way. It's done in the context of a medical situation in the ER. It happens every day."

Even in the clinical context and the later hour than the Super Bowl halftime show, a brief bare breast on "ER" probably would have garnered some attention. But in the wake of Jackson and her revealing sunburst breast jewelry, NBC affiliates were understandably nervous about the scene airing.

Ray Carter, general manager of WPXI (Pittsburgh's NBC station), said there was an outcry among affiliates.

"We were part of it and proud to be part of it," Carter said. "Under any circumstances it would have been a bad idea, but particularly after Sunday's fiasco, that would just be so far over the top.

"Unfortunately, the local affiliates are the ones who feel the fallout on something like that. KDKA felt the fallout on the Super Bowl, and we'd feel it on 'ER.' We're the ones who have to field the phone calls and take the heat, and yet it's a step removed from us."

NBC broadcasts "ER," and WPXI relays the network signal.

Carter said that if NBC had gone ahead with the scene, WPXI would have asked for a copy of the episode in advance and would have blurred the breast.

"We would have made sure that the community standard was upheld," Carter said.

After CBS's embarrassment over the breast seen 'round the world during the Super Bowl, the network has taken additional precautions for Sunday's live telecast of the Grammy awards. Engineers are working on augmenting the Grammycast's usual five-second audio delay to include a video delay.

Whether or not Jackson and singer Justin "Wardrobe Malfunction" Timberlake, who tore off the patch of clothing that exposed Jackson's breast, will appear on the Grammys as scheduled -- he to perform, she to present -- is up in the air. Yesterday a CBS spokeswoman would not comment on whether or not either one will participate.

And in still another ripple from Sunday's overexposure, Daily Variety reports that ABC wants to add a delay to its Feb. 29 telecast of the Academy Awards, which has never had a delay in the past.

The Oscars board voted down the idea but said it would not block ABC from adding a delay if the network chooses to do so. Smart money says it will.

Editorial returns

Newspapers have editorials and TV stations used to, but they long ago went the way of "Bowling for Dollars."

WTAE was the last station in town with local editorials, but after general manager Jim Hefner left in early 2002, they disappeared. Now they're back.

General manager Rick Henry, who took over after Hefner's exit, began taping weekly "Viewpoint 4" segments last month.

The one-minute-long editorials are taking a particular tack.

"We're taking a positive approach to our region, encouraging pride in our region by highlighting the good things that exist or are happening," Henry said.

The segments, archived at under "WTAE-TV," do tend to be more cheerleaderish than editorials of the past. Admittedly, that's not my favorite tone, but then again, Henry's right when he states in the first "Viewpoint," "Sometimes it's like we are our own worst enemy. Visitors and newcomers, in fact, marvel at what we often take for granted."

The segment appears to be getting more teeth. The most recent "Viewpoint" advocates cooperation between the city and suburbs and chastises the city for "ridiculous moves like the recent parking tax hike."

"The city needs to clean up its act," Henry said in the editorial, "and suburbanites need to understand that in the long pull, without a healthy city, it's hard to have healthy suburbs."

That's common sense, but in a region full of entrenched leaders who are afraid to move beyond politics as usual and embrace regionalism, it doesn't hurt to point out the obvious.

Henry said "Viewpoint 4," unlike a newspaper's editorial page, is unlikely to endorse political candidates. But he said the segment will "prod people to work together and knock off some of the silly, petty politics."

Currently the only other local station with an editorial presence is WPGH with "The Point" in its 10 p.m. news. But like much of its newscast, "The Point" is piped in from the Maryland headquarters of Channel 53 owner Sinclair and deals primarily with national issues.

Vatican concert televised

At 9 p.m. April 7, WQED-TV will broadcast the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra's 90-minute concert before the pope, recorded at the Vatican last month.

It will be preceded at 7:30 p.m. by "On Q," featuring an interview with Gilbert Levine, who conducted the PSO in the concert. At 8 p.m., a one-hour documentary about the orchestra's journey to Rome will air.

After the concert, a one-hour compilation of "On Q" stories about the trip will be broadcast.

'Ed' finale

Although NBC hasn't announced it officially, there's no question that tomorrow's "Ed" (9 p.m. on WPXI) will be the series finale, and that's OK by me. The show had a decent four-year run, which is generally the maximum amount of time a drama can maintain its quality. As it is, "Ed" was wildly uneven.

But "Ed" goes out on a high note, ending its best-written season with a wedding finale that's touching and, more importantly for this show, funny.

Written by series creators Rob Burnett and Squirrel Hill native Jon Beckerman, the hour brings closure to the romance of Ed (Tom Cavanagh) and Carol (Julie Bowen).

"And thank God, because we're all so sick of Ed and Carol's story," says one character, speaking, no doubt, for some fans of the series. Self-deprecating humor is always appreciated by discerning viewers.

But this final "Ed" also services the other characters well, particularly under-appreciated nutball Shirley (Rachel Cronin). Her "Simpsons"-like eye-popping will be missed.


A new television Q&A column, exclusive to, kicks off today on the PG Web site.

Every Thursday, I'll respond to a selection of questions -- sorry, I can't get to them all -- about the increasingly insane world of television. This feature will appear only on's TV Web page.

Today's inaugural edition includes questions and answers about the fate of "Crossing Jordan," NBC's shoddy treatment of "Scrubs" and a rumor about a name change for KDKA.

The column also contains a link that will allow readers to submit questions.

Post-Gazette TV editor Rob Owen can be reached at or 412-263-2582.

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