James is not going to lose his virginity without a fight.
But the fight is between Dan Wakefield, creator and story consultant for NBC's critically acclaimed "James at 15" series and the network's department of broadcast standards, also known as the censor.
The master plan for James was drawn up weeks ago. The young hero of the weekly series would become 16 in early February and undergo his sexual initiation in an episode titled "The Gift," to be aired Feb. 9.
Now Wakefield, says he will quit the show and already has had his name removed from the "Gift" script because of changes called for by the NBC censor.
More is at stake than a teen-ager's virtue. Wakefield's credentials are considerably loftier than the usual TV writer's. He is a Columbia graduate, a former Neiman fellow, served as contributing editor at Atlantic Monthly since 1969, and has won considerable praise for such journalism as "Supernation at Peace and War," which took up an entire Atlantic issue, and such novels are "Home Free." "Starting Over," and "Going All the Way."
He is therefore just the kind of writer who usually wouldn't touch television with a 10-foot pole, the kind of writer downfall and heartbreak are predicted for the moment he gets his own office at a studio. But Wakefield says, "I am not another sensitive novelist, all upset by Hollywood. I'd love to work in television again. I think some of the best stuff being done is on television.
"I said I would write a script about James having sex and losing his virginity only if we could at least refer in some way to birth control in the show," Wakefield says. The censors ruled out any direct reference to birth-control devices, so Wakefield devised this exchange between James and the 16-year-old girl he falls in love with:
James: "I love you and I want to protect you. I've heard about teen-age preganancies and all that and I think people ought to be responsible."
Girl: "I am responsible, James."
James: "You are? That's great!"
Wakefield says the censor would not allow the word "responsible" as a reference to birth control. "The censor told me, 'The American people will not stand for any mentions of birth control on television,'" Wakefield says. "It just boggles the mind. How can they ban the word 'responsible'?"
But Ralph Daniels, the chief NBC censor, said from New York he didn't think birth control was the crucial problem with Wakefield's script. He said there was not enough "remorse and concern" on James' part after the great moment has passed (none of the actual lovemaking was ever in the script).
"We thought if James lost his virginity in a marvelous love affair and that were treated as a mature relationship, that would not be realistic," said Daniels. "It had to be in a moment of passion. Then later he thinks about the consequences."
"Oh yeah - guilt," says Wakefield. "The network said James couldn't have sex unless he was punished. I'd already disowned the script by that point over the birth-control issue. In the new version, which they're shooting right now, the girl thinks she's preganant afterwards and both kids do some suffering. I'm not sure how many pages of suffering are in there. But it turns out she's not pregnant, anyway."
Censors also cut a reference by the girl to a past affair of hers. Previously censors had cut a reference to a birth-control device from the two-hour movie pilot for "James at 15," which scored hight ratings when shown last summer. James had asked a friend to loan him "that thing you carry around in your wallet" because he thought his magic moment was immmnet.
But it wasn't.
And the censor said nix anyway.
"The censor told me that I lived in L.A. and didn't know what things are really like in the rest of the country," says Wakefield. "Well I grew up in Indiana and I taught in the Midwest and I have some notion of what people's values are. Out front I'd said I'd only write the script if there was a reference to birth control. There's something like 700,000 unmarried teenage pregnancies in this country every year and a big venereal disease problem. I thought it would be irresponsible not to deal with that.
"It gets to be a little like Vietnam - you say, 'Well, we'll just give in on one more little thing,' and pretty soon there's nothing lett."
Daniels was asked if it wasn't inconsistent for the network that aired "79 Park Avenue," bio of a high-class hooker, and "Aspen," a jet-set sex saga, to become upset over Wakefield's "James at 15" script. Daniels said there was a difference between what characters in a "one-time-only" show can do and what characters in a continuing series can do.
He also said the censoring of the script was "a complex issue."
At any rate, even if Wakefield makes good on his vow to leave, the altered "Gift" will air Feb. 9. Presumably, Richard Baskin's lyrics to the title tune will remain intact, if perhaps more pertinent than usual:
"Is it a feeling in the heart, or is it somethin' you can't name? Oh, oh, oh, oh, Oh, oh, James . . ."