In yet another example of network skittishness in the wake of Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl flashing, PBS says it will alter a movie scene to avoid showing the front of a nude woman being scrubbed down after a fictional chemical attack.
Extra footage in the movie “Dirty War” will be used that depicts the woman from a more discreet angle, PBS senior programming executive Jacoba Atlas said on Saturday.
It is one of three HBO-produced films that will be seen on PBS stations in coming months after they are shown on the pay cable outlet.
“Dirty War,” about a terrorist “dirty bomb” attack on London, will include the nude scene when it is shown on HBO starting Jan. 24. PBS stations will air the movie Feb. 23.
At a time when the Federal Communications Commission is aggressively pursuing indecency complaints, a nonessential nude scene in a fictional movie isn’t worth the risk, Atlas said.
The FCC last fall fined CBS $550,000 for Jackson’s notorious wardrobe malfunction, making many networks and broadcasters nervous about airing nudity, violence or bad language.
Not only would the always financially strapped PBS put itself at risk, but the scene could deter many of the system’s 170 individual stations from airing an important film, Atlas said.
“You want to pick your battles,” she said.
PBS is bolder about what it will show with nonfiction or historical programming, she said. For instance, an upcoming film about artist Frida Kahlo will show sexually explicit examples of her art that are hanging in some of the world’s museums.
In the non-HBO documentary “Auschwitz: Inside the Nazi State,” airing next week, PBS blurred the image of a naked, emaciated man being used as a human experiment for preparing the gas chambers. The full image was seen when the film was shown in Europe.
But Atlas said that decision was made out of concern for the man’s dignity, and not because of the FCC.
“If that were my grandfather, would I want him shown like that, in his most vulnerable state?” she asked. “I felt it was exploiting this man and we didn’t need to.”
Only minor language editing was needed for the other films being borrowed from HBO by PBS: “Sometimes in April,” about genocide in Rwanda, and “Yesterday,” about an African mother with AIDS.
HBO, which is available in about one-third of the nation’s television homes, made the unusual agreement in order to give its work more exposure. PBS is seen in virtually all U.S. homes with TV.
“I think there will be more of these innovative partnerships in the future,” said Pat Mitchell, PBS president.