|Tom Hanks had the lead role in the Academy Award winning film, 'Saving Private Ryan.'
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Some industry observers suggest ABC and its affiliates may be using the highly respected war epic that contains language that most would agree is obscene to make a point about the FCC's recently enhanced enforcement of broadcast indecency standards.
'Obvious point about content'
One such observer is Jon Mandel, chairman of media buying agency MediaCom. He said ABC's statements on Saving Private Ryan "has a very obvious point about content. They are saying you people [the FCC] should stay out of content regulation. This has nothing to do with standards and caring about the community." Referring to lost ad revenue, Mr. Mandel said, "ABC has to lose the battle, if Preston Padden [ABC-TV chief lobbyist] is going to win the war."
The network's only response to questions about this issue was to release a written statement that said, "ABC is proud to once again broadcast [the movie]. ... As in the past, this broadcast will contain appropriate and clear advisories and parental guidelines."
20 stations drop film
The movie, which was to air tonight to commemorate Veterans Day, will be dropped by around 20 stations from Iowa to New Hampshire. It will be replaced by a variety of alternative programming.
The same uncut, uncensored version of the movie has previously been aired twice on ABC.
Saving Private Ryan contains a 30-minute opening sequence that has been hailed as the most realistic re-creation of the D-Day landings at Omaha beach ever produced. The graphic scene depicts the full chaos and horror of war, including scenes up close of shell-shocked soldiers with missing limbs. The movie also contains the sort of language, including the f-word, common in the highly stressed and emotionally raw milieu of wartime military operations.
No FCC advance waiver
According to Associated Press reports today, the affiliate stations requested that the FCC give them an advance waiver to avoid fines over such language. The FCC is reported to have declined.
"It would clearly have been our preference to run the movie. We think it's a patriotic, artistic tribute to our fighting forces," Ray Cole, president of Citadel Communications, which owns ABC affiliate WOI in Iowa, told AP Radio.
"We are just coming off an election where moral issues were cited as a reason by people voting one way or another and, in my opinion, the commissioners are fearful of the new Congress," Mr. Cole is quoted as saying.
Economic impact on ABC
The decision to drop movie coverage on a Thursday evening during the November TV sweeps period will have an economic impact on Walt Disney Co.-owned ABC. Advertisers who bought into the national movie will seek network make-goods.
Geoff Robison, senior vice president for national TV at Palisades Media Group in Los Angeles, said: "If you [media buyers] bought Saving Private Ryan in the scatter market, you're probably feeling like you paid too much. As a media agency you're buried in certain markets and it is not going to help the ratings."
The scatter market refers to airtime buys made on relatively short notice. Scatter buys generally come without guarantees.
ABC and other networks have been attacked by advocacy groups seeking to establish minimal levels of decency standards for language and behavior in the media. Groups such as the American Family Association, based in Tupelo, Miss., have recently launched a number of successful campaigns that have forced major marketers to pull their ads out of shows deemed to contain inappropriate content.