'Van Helsing' spots panned by Congress

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CBS, already under fire for its Super Bowl half time show, is now taking heat for its airing of an ad for Universal Pictures' summer thriller, "Van Helsing," during the same broadcast.

Last week, during a hearing held by a subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, the movie ad was criticized for being too intense for the time period in which it was shown.

Mel Karmazin, Viacom president-chief operating officer, said CBS will re-examine its standards and practices for commercials. "We had a complaint on a movie. We had a question on taste so we thought we should look," he said during the marathon House hearing. (For more coverage of that hearing, go to AdAge.com QwikFIND aap37f)

The comments came as several congressmen and one commissioner of the FCC questioned TV advertising and whether obscenity fines should also apply to violent or obscene ads, not just programming, and whether ad revenues earned should be one determination of the level of fines.

"Let's also look at ads and not just programming," said FCC commissioner Michael Copps.

`poor judgement'

U.S. Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., ranking Democrat on the committee, also complained about ads, saying "the CBS network displayed remarkably poor judgement in airing violent commercials during Super Bowl hours when they knew that children were in the television audience."

In response to antsy networks that don't want to draw the wrath of the FCC, Hollywood's film marketers are cutting and re-cutting ads to carve out anything that could be deemed objectionable.

This tactic was used in the immediate wake of 9/11, when the studios slashed out such things as guns, fires and explosions from their TV campaigns, and dropped some violent movies from their slate entirely.

Universal released a statement late last week saying the PG-13 film "features imaginative use of fantasy characters such as Dracula, the Frankenstein monster and the Wolf Man-characters that have been staples of movies and popular culture for more than 60 years."

The 60-second Super Bowl spot "was approved by the Motion Picture Association of America. While the spot contained images of fanged fantasy creatures, it did not feature any blood or gore, nor any depiction of realistic graphic violence."

In the immediate future, Hollywood marketers said they expect to produce more spots than they usually would in order to get a handful of acceptable ones for broadcasters.

In recent days, networks objected to a TV spot for the upcoming Dreamworks slapstick comedy "Eurotrip" that showed a character wearing a hat-on fire-that looks like the Pope's mitre. The studio substituted a different spot.

"TV is looking at our ads differently right now," said Dreamworks marketing head Terry Press. "There's more scrutiny of the content."

A CBS spokesman said that the film studios will be held to the same standards as any other content or advertising.

Several broadcasters have made recent changes in their programming to edit or play in a later time period some adult-themed shows. A scene in the popular NBC drama "ER" was clipped to take out a flash of an elderly woman's breast, and Viacom-owned MTV pushed its racier videos to late-night time slots.

contributing: ira teinowitz

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