Affiliates Take It Easy on NBC Over Program Miscues

Times Staff Writer

Following a TV season whose prime-time fare included a Geraldo Rivera special on Satanism, a made-for-TV movie provocatively titled “The Sex Tapes,” the lurid miniseries “Favorite Son” and the oversexed nursing series “Nightingales,” NBC and the president of its entertainment division, Brandon Tartikoff, have felt heat from the press, the viewers and the advertisers about the tarnishing of the No. 1 network’s image.

But representatives of NBC’s affiliated stations, who wound up their annual convention here Tuesday, seemed unfazed by the recent NBC-trashing and Brandon-bashing, preferring to accept apologies from network executives and their assurance that such a season would not happen again.

“If you’re going to experiment and take some chances, you’re going to get a few Geraldos,” Rennie Corley, general manager of WXII-TV in Winston-Salem, N.C., said with a shrug. “And that’s OK.”


Echoed Jerry Eaton, program manager for KYW-TV in Philadelphia: “I certainly endorse the concept of taking chances, pushing the envelope. I don’t necessarily approve of how that manifested itself last season, but not to try is to die.”

“It’s a big issue,” conceded George Moynihan, vice president of Group W Stations. “And there were a few cases where they went too far. But I think they (NBC) are truly sensitive to that.”

In closed sessions with the affiliates, Tartikoff blamed last season’s errors on the Writers Guild of America strike, which delayed scripts and prevented the network from having time to adequately police their content. Tartikoff also cited pressure on Hollywood’s producers to compete with cable as a reason for more lax standards on profanity, sex and violence. The executive pledged to beef up NBC’s program standards department “to the standard of a wartime army, rather than a peacetime army.”

The affiliates seemed eager to accept the network’s apologies. One station representative summed up NBC’s last season philosophically: “They took a run at something, and it blew up in their face.”

Even Corley, a voice from the heart of the heartland with his North Carolina station, said he prefers to encourage his viewers to practice their own censorship by turning off the set when they find programming they don’t like, rather than threatening advertiser boycotts and attacking the network over unsuitable programming.

“I think that’s ridiculous--why should I have to have someone like Rev. Wildmon tell me what to watch?” Corley said, referring to Donald Wildmon, executive director of the Tupelo, Miss.-based American Family Assn. “I would really hope the viewers would vote by turning the switch.”


Corley said that his audience has protested some of the profanity that has slipped into NBC scripts in recent months: “A lot of shows have son of a bitch now as a matter of course. The folks back home just turn it off.”

Jon Ruby, general manager of KVOA-TV in Tucson, Ariz., said of NBC’s recent image difficulties: “I don’t see it as a problem. Tartikoff made a couple of errors, and said he’d never do it again.”

Harvey Libow, general manager of WSAV-TV in Savannah, Ga., said the press was more concerned about NBC’s image than the viewers were. “I only heard from the press,” he said.

Although calling NBC’s airing of the Rivera Satanism special the “most egregious” error on the network’s part last season, Francine Achbar, assistant program manager of Boston’s WBZ-TV, said viewers attacked the station most aggressively about “Nightingales,” largely because Boston is a medical center.

“When I called up my affiliate representative and told her I was getting 20 letters a day, she was surprised,” Achbar said. “That is a regional issue.”

But, Achbar added, her station’s viewers also bombarded the station with complaints about the Rivera Satanism special and have recently complained about tasteless shows aired during the hours their children watch.

“Boston is a very conscientious, educated, sophisticated town where people do write and call quite vigorously,” she said.


Achbar was the only affiliate representative interviewed who supports advertiser boycotts. “I don’t have a problem with it,” she said. “ ‘Censorship’ is more classically defined as government interference; this is just another element in the market.”

Rather than worrying about NBC’s image in the world of entertainment television, the affiliates seemed more concerned about its news and sports departments. They fretted over how NBC’s prime-time news show, “Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow” would do in the ratings when it debuts this summer.

They also worried whether NBC’s intention to offset some of the cost of its coverage of the 1992 Summer Olympics by allowing some events to be aired on cable and pay-per-view would involve the loss of the most popular events. “I’m sure they (cable executives) are not going to want all archery and Greco-Roman wrestling,” grumbled Greg Kelly of KCRA-TV in Sacramento, attending the convention with his father, station owner Jon Kelly, and his brother, Christopher Kelly.

Added Christopher: “I think the reason Bob Wright wanted to have this convention in San Francisco is that he likes the cable cars.”