The TV Column: Utah station rejects ‘New Normal’

August 27, 2012

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, chief executive of Bonneville International — the Mormon Church-owned parent company of the NBC station, KSL-TV — said late last week in a prepared statement. (The show will air — in some places, anyway — Tuesdays at 9:30 p.m. ET).


Andrew Rannells as Bryan, left, and Justin Bartha as David in a scene from "The New Normal," premiering Sept. 11, 2012 at 9:30p.m. EST on NBC. (Trae Patton/AP/NBC)

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 declined to air NBC’s prime-time remake of the Brit-com “Coupling”; NBC also wound up pulling this much-ballyhooed adaptation — this time after four episodes. (No less than Jeff Zucker, who rose to become president and chief executive of NBCUniversal, explained publicly that the move was owing to the show having stunk.)

And in 2000, KSL said no dice to NBC’s animated comedy “God, the Devil and Bob.” This much-ballyhooed show, which drew the ire of some religious groups, also was yanked from NBC’s lineup after just a handful of episodes aired; it had low ratings nationally and fell 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?

Simpson told the Salt Lake Tribune that the station “struggles” with content that “crosses the line in one area or another.”

And by “crosses the line,” he said he means dialogue that is “excessively rude and crude” or scenes that are “too explicit” or characterizations that “might seem offensive,” though he did not say to whom.

“The New Normal” has been targeted by a conservative anti-gay group calling itself One Million Moms — the same group that targeted J.C. Penney for featuring Ellen DeGeneres as its spokeswoman. OMM wants advertisers to boycott “The New Normal” 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.” The network 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, or tolerance of people outside the definitions of ‘normal.’ ”

The “Law & Order: SVU” motif used by Barkin in defense of “The New Normal” is a popular one, having been used a year ago by Salt Lake Tribune TV critic Scott Pierce when KSL-TV announced on-air that it would not broadcast “The Playboy Club.”

Pierce noted that “The Playboy Club” was far less adult than every episode of the long-running “Law & Order” procedural crime drama, which KSL has had no problems broadcasting.

At that time, Pierce also pointed out 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 that its decision to refuse to air “The Playboy Club” was based on its “long-term policy to screen programming for material which significant portions of our audience might find objectionable.”

Now, Simpson tells the Deseret News, a Salt Lake City newspaper that is owned by the Mormon church, 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 preemption in, say, New York or Los Angeles, the country’s largest TV markets. Fortunately for NBC, it owns the NBC stations in those markets.

To read previous columns by Lisa de Moraes, go to washingtonpost.com/tvblog.

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