You can't kiss the back end of a chicken on network television - at least, not on CBS. A scene in which a plucked chicken gets smooched by hooligans at a fraternal initiation was among those censored by CBS for the TV showing of the 1975 movie comedy, "Smile."
The director of the film, Michael Ritchie, thinks many of the changes made were ridiculous and arbitrary. He especially hated to see the cuts in the farcical "Exhausted Rooster" chicken-kissing ceremony. "The chicken scene was severely butchered - no pun intended," Ritchie said from Hollywood. "I was appalled by what CBS did to a simple little PG film."
"Smile," a satirical comedy about young women embroiled in a California beauty pageant, was shown by CBS on Wednesday, but in Washington Channel 9 pre-empted the film for a sports event and will instead air it tonight at 11:30.
Ritchie's protest, which he has put into an article for a forthcoming issue of New West Magazine, is but the latest cry of pain from a Hollywood film director who sees his movie altered for televising. With the advanced frankness of thestrical films an increasing problem for TV censors, many movie companies now require "alternate," milder footage and dialogue to be shot for future sale of films to television. Ritchie said that a TV version of "Smile" was made, with (See SMILE, C5, Col. 1) (SMILE, From C1) 30 changes supervised by him, but that CBS subsequently demanded "at least two dozen" additional changes.
Van Gordon Sauter, director of standards and practices for CBS - thus the network's chief censor - said yesterday, "I'm not sure Mr. Ritchie fully understands that a theatrical audience is radicaly different from a television audience and the same standard does not apply to both."
Sauter said he thought the cuts made in "Smile" totaled only about 30 seconds.
Ritchie said he thought the censoring was capricious. Words such as "virgin" and "homosexual," fairly common now on TV, were cut from the "Smile" dialogue, he said. He also objected to the deletion of the phrase "sanitary napkin" when in fact he said such products are advertised in TV commercials.
Sauter defended the cuts. "We have no objection to certain words," he said. "Goodness gracious, we have commercials on the air for feminine hygiene products; I know that. Our objection was not the words at all but the way they were used." In the film, plumbers complain about discarded sanitary napkins clogging up the pipes, and Sauter said he found that "too evocative."
"We have no objection to virgins or the word virgin," Sauter said. "But in this film it was used by a couple of 8-year-old boys trying to take pictures of girls getting undressed. The way in which it was used was found inappropriate by our editor."
And the chicken-kissing ceremony? "It was gross, but we were able to cut around it."
Editing of movies for television has now become so technically sophisticated that viewing audiences who have not seen the uncut versions of films may not realize things are changed or gone. According to Ritchie, that's just what the networks desire. "They told me, 'We don't want the audience to know that anything is missing,'" Ritchie said.
Ritchie charges that there's been a "retrenchment" of standards by the networks on what will be allowed on the air. Sauter did not exactly agree but said, "CBS is getting more strict on the series over which we have immediate control. Too many of our broadcasts have featured what the public might call sexually provocative material. We have to provide a balance of circumstances and this year the balance fell a bit askew."
Sauter insisted the network tries to maintain the integrity of the movies it shows and says that editing problems were minor on "Smile" compared to films such as "Death Wish," "Chinatown" and "Paper Moon," all shown by CBS in recent months.
Ritchie said that the network was harder on "Smile" than on "Chinatown" because "Smile" was not a big hit in its theatrical release. He predicted that his latest feature, "The Bad News Bears," which contains strong language, will have an easier time because it was a box office smash. "They'll have to pay a lot of money for the rights to show it, so there'll be a lot of looking-for-the-other-way," Ritchie said.
Sauter acknowledged that the network has "a strong commercial interest in making sure a film gets to television in a way that will reflect its audience appeal."
As network censor, Sauter also has dominion over commercials and recently nixed a sexy Muriel Cigar spot accepted by the other networks because he thought "the on-camera action went too far" when a cigar-hawking woman cozied up to a cigar-smoking man.
Sauter also said he will lobby to get the current movie "Network," an attack on commercial televison, eventually approved for TV showing. "It's a very provocative film that would be very good on telvision," he said. "There is a television version. The concern we have with 'Network' is the heavy usage of profanity. The proliferation of it throughout the god-damned thing is going to be a real problem for us."
"For example, one of the words in the TV version is 'bull soup.' But anybody who hears that isn't going to think of bull soup. They're going to think of the word it's replacing."