It’s that time of year again, when NBC’s Salt Lake City television station — owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Letter-day Saints — lets America know which of NBC’s new prime-time series it will not air.
This season’s winner: “The New Normal,” a comedy series about a gay couple having a baby via a single-mom surrogate who comes with a “small-minded” (says NBC) grandmother, played by Ellen Barkin.
“Nanna,” as Barkin is called in the show, provides the pilot episode with lines like, “I happen to love the gays — I could never get my hair to look this good without them.” And, “There’ s a giant homosexual elephant in the room.” And: “I feel like I just ate a black-and-gay stew right before I went to sleep. This is a nightmare!”
“The New Normal” is from Ryan Murphy, the creator of “Glee,” “Nip/Tuck” and “American Horror Story.” He says the show is vaguely semi-autobiographical.
“For our brand, this program feels inappropriate on several dimensions, especially during family viewing time,” Jeff Simpson, CEO of Bonneville International — the Mormon Church-owned parent company of the NBC station, KSL-TV — said late last week in a prepared statement, of the network’s new comedy (airing Tuesdays at 9:30 p.m. ET).
Last season’s lottery winner was NBC’s drama series “The Playboy Club,” which the station declined to air because, a station exec told The TV Column back then, the Playboy brand “is associated with pornography.”
Turns out, the show wasn’t associated closely enough with pornography, and viewer interest was tepid at best; NBC wound up pulling the much-ballyhooed series after just three episodes.
In 2003, KSL also declined to air NBC’s prime-time remake of the Brit-com “Coupling”; NBC also wound up pulling this much-ballyhooed adaptation of the Brit-com of the same name — this time after four episodes aired, with no less than Jeff Zucker, who rose to become president and CEO of NBCUniversal, explaining publicly that the move was owing to the show having “just sucked.”
And, in 2000, KSL said no-dice to NBC’s animated comedy “God, the Devil and Bob.” This much-ballyhooed animated comedy, which drew the ire of some religious groups, was also yanked from NBC’s lineup after just a handful of episodes aired, beause of low ratings nationally and falling into NBC’s Life is Too Short Category.
Does this mean you should put your money on “The New Normal” being the first cancellation of the 2012-13 TV season, what with KSL seeming to have its finger on the pulse of American TV-viewing taste?
In KSL’s statement about its decision not to air “The New Normal,” Bonneville CEO Simpson said the show’s “dialogue is excessively rude and crude; the scenes are too explicit and the stereotypes are offensive on all sides. ”
“The New Normal” has been targeted by the conservative anti-gay group calling itself One Million Moms — the same group that targeted JC Penney for featuring Ellen DeGeneres as its spokeswoman. OMM wants advertisers to boycott the show and NBC for using public airwaves “to continue to subject families to the decay of morals and values, and the sanctity of marriage in attempting to redefine marriage.” OMM added that “these things are harmful to our society, and this program is damaging to our culture.”
Murphy had no comment “at this time,” the TV Column was told. He apparently decided to let others do the talking. Like Barkin, who tweeted Monday: “So L&O SVU (rape & child murder) is ok? But loving gay couple having a baby is inappropriate?”
And like the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, which issued a statement saying that by “refusing to affirm LGBT families, KSL and Mr. Simpson are sending a dangerous message to Utah.”
And like NBC, which, in a long-ish statement, said Murphy is “a staunch defender of human rights and dignity, and ‘The New Normal’ is another example of that.”
NBC said that although “The New Normal” is a comedy, it “is also making a statement about the changing definition of the nuclear family.” NBC said “the show is against bigotry and hatred in every form and will make that point whenever characters say outrageous or unacceptable things about race, religion, sexual identity, disability of tolerance of people outside the definitions of ‘normal.’ ”
Late Monday, KSL decided it had had enough:
“As we observe the dialogue surrounding our decision to not air ‘The New Normal’, we regret that the narrative is being reduced to a single issue,” the station said in a statement.
“We have viewed the pilot and this program contains sexually explicit content, demeaning dialogue and inciting stereotypes. KSL considers the entirety of a show before making such a sensitive decision, and reviews many criteria, as part of that process.
“To oversimplify KSL’s decision to one dimension is simply inaccurate.”
The “Law & Order: SVU” motif used by Barkin in attacking KSL’s decision is a popular one, having been used one year ago by Salt Lake Tribune TV critic Scott Pierce, when KSL-TV announced on-air it would not broadcast “Playboy Club.”
Pierce noted that “Playboy Club” was far less adult than every episode of that long-running procedural crime drama, which KSL has had no qualms about broadcasting, he said.
At that time, Pierce also noted that KSL aired nearly 200 episodes of NBC’s old comedy series “Will & Grace” — a comedy about a gay guy and his straight-chick BFF — a show, Pierce sniffed, that “never met a dirty joke it didn’t like.”
Back then, KSL explained on air that its decision to refuse to air “Playboy Club” was based on its “long-term policy to screen programming for material which significant portions of our audience might find objectionable.”
One year later, Simpson told the Deseret News that his decision to take a pass on “The New Normal” is not an attempt to prevent interested viewers from watching the show.
“KSL is confident that with the proliferation of digital media, those who wish to view the program can easily do so,” he explained.
Salt Lake City’s CW affiliate, KUCW-TV has said it will air “The New Normal”; it had not set a time slot at press time.
KUCW also is home of “Saturday Night Live,” which Simpson’s station also declines to broadcast.
Salt Lake City is the country’s 33rd largest TV market, so a move from the NBC station to the CW station in that market does not spell certain death for a show as it might were the pre-emption in, say, New York or Los Angeles — the country’s two largest TV markets. Fortunately for NBC, it owns the NBC stations in those markets.