The move underscores the growing tension between broadcast networks, forced to air edgier fare to remain competitive with cable networks, and advertisers looking to avoid controversy as they pitch their wares.
The much-hyped animated series, created by Jeffrey Katzenberg, received development money from the forum, an advertiser group formed to promote family-friendly TV shows. But the group withdrew its money when the show turned out to be a not-so-family-friendly outlet, laden with sexual references and double entendres.
The Utah-based Deseret Morning News, for example, described the show as "one big off-color joke," and "downright smutty,"-a sentiment common among reviewers.
The question now is whether other advertisers will shy away from the show's edgy content. The first episode aired at 9 p.m., considered an adult time slot by the networks, and featured an attempt by the show's computer-animated animal couples to mate.
"Big Daddy's home and he's ready for lovin"' said Larry, a character voiced by John Goodman. "It may be 9 o'clock in New York but right here it's mountin' time." Carl Reiner, who voices grandfather lion, Sarmoti, suggested in an August conference call with reporters that the show could be a good tool to teach children about sex.
"When we originally read ["Pride"] it was deemed family-friendly by the majority of the contributors to the script fund," said Kaki Hinton, co-chairman of the Family Friendly Programming Forum, who is also Pfizer Consumer Healthcare VP-ad services. "NBC has been responsible and they informed us the show would be taking an adult turn and we agreed to eliminate that project from the script development fund." NBC is returning the Forum's investment, said to be around $50,000.
When asked specifically what was wrong with "Pride," Ms. Hinton said, "Based on just that [first] episode there were words like `ass' and `bitch' and two lions in heat. While very funny, it wouldn't be something I could watch with my 15- and 12-year-olds."
Ms. Hinton said she was informed by Marianne Gambelli, NBC Universal exec VP-sales and marketing, about the change in tenor for the program two to three weeks ago. Viewers got their first look at the show during the Olympics, when NBC dedicated a huge amount of time to promote "Pride."
"We're not disappointed, and no other Forum member is disappointed; it is what it is," said Ms. Hinton, adding that just because the Forum has rejected the show, didn't mean that its members-which include Procter & Gamble Co., Ford Motor Co., Sears Roebuck & Co., Pfizer and others-wouldn't advertise around the show.
"Pride" was the highest-rated in its Aug. 31 time slot, garnering 12.3 million viewers, a 7.7 rating and a 12 share in U.S. households. Among adults 18-49, the sought-after demo, "Pride" did a 5.4 rating and a 15 share.
The debut episode was presented commercial-free by Toyota Motor Sales USA's Toyota division. Toyota, which is not a Forum member, was pleased with the ratings performance, a spokeswoman said.
While the initial rating was respectable, media buyers are waiting to see what repeat viewership the show gets before judging its success.
Because of concern over accusations of censorship, the Family Friendly Programming Forum said it gets involved with programs while in the script stage but does not monitor shows once they're on air. That raises the question of whether the Forum was paying enough attention to the show, and whether buyers were aware that "Pride" would not be aimed at families.
The fund is supporting two broadcast shows this fall: ABC's "Savages," a show from Mel Gibson about a single dad trying to raise a brood of rowdy boys, and CBS's "Clubhouse," a baseball drama.
Ms. Hinton said the fund is also preparing to ramp up publicity for its efforts. "We are taking our mission to a higher level," said Ms. Hinton.
contributing: jean halliday, jack neff