NEW YORK -- Today NBC further explained why it edited, censored their critics say, some episodes of "VeggieTales," a popular children's series that has just begun airing on NBC Saturday mornings.
"VeggieTales," an animated home video series which was built on the principle of using garden-vegetable characters and Biblical stories to teach children morality and values, has sold more than 50 million DVDs since its launch in 1993, according to Big Idea Inc., the series' producers.
NBC's move to unilaterally change shows from the versions sold on DVD for the last 13 years has fans and media watchdog groups upset -- and NBC on the defensive.
"We understand artistic freedom and creative license but our responsibilities go beyond the confines of a program segment to a broader social context," said NBC Universal's Vice Chairman and Executive Officer Bob Wright. "When an artist goes beyond the pale, putting dangerous elements in a story, taking them out is not censorship; it's good citizenship," said Wright.
"If we had left SarahLeigh the SpinachLeaf in this week's episode and children had died, we would be culpable. I would feel personally responsible," added Wright.
"In today's legal and agricultural environment, glorifying raw leaf spinach is just not something we can condone much less let on the air," said Beth Comstock, president, Digital Media and Market Development at NBC Universal.
Instead of being introduced to "VeggieTales" fans, SarahLeigh the SpinachLeaf was cut, chopped say the Parents Television Council, an entertainment watchdog group, to make way for an FDA-approved Lucinda Lettucehead in this week's Episode 41: "Salad Days for LarryBoy."
Before these changes, "VeggieTales" had been surprisingly successful for NBC in a traditionally difficult Saturday morning time slot. With Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber in the lineup, last weekend NBC saw its Saturday morning children's programming ratings make the biggest jump in since 2003.
NBC is also being criticized for editing "VeggieTales" episodes to take out references to God.
Network insiders say that NBC is trying to come up with a way to add back some religious component back into the edited "VeggieTales" segments. NBC's first pass at a solution, our sources say, is to add some crucifixion out-takes from Madonna's recently completed "Confessions" tour.
NBC is scheduled to broadcast a video of the "Confessions" concert during the November ratings sweeps period, which is used to set advertising rates.
NBC originally declined to comment on these unresolved religious issues, saying only it is "against corporate policy to mention any god or any god-like being not currently under contract to NBC."
In today's statement NBC said it is "committed to the positive messages and universal values of 'VeggieTales' . . . . Our goal is to reach as broad an audience as possible with these positive messages, while being careful not to advocate any one religious point of view, such as those that assume the existence of a god."
In a broader application of that perspective, NBC is said to be mulling removing both conservative and liberal commentators from it's Sunday-morning talk show lineup, if those individuals "feel compelled to continue to promote only their own narrow points of view."
Copyright 2006, Douglas Salguod