WB turns to Internet to beat FCC Fines

In a swift reaction to stiff FCC fines issued last week for television content the commissioners deemed indecent, the WB network immediately struck back, choosing to premiere the uncensored pilot of a new youth-oriented drama on the Internet followed by a sanitized version this week on its 100-plus broadcast station affiliates.

WB took the action on “The Bedford Diaries” after creator Tom Fontana refused to edit scenes from the show after last week's FCC ruling. WB's standards department had already accepted the program.

In a potentially ominous sign for over-the-air broadcasters, WB began streaming the uncut version of the pilot episode TheWB.com last week. The broadcast premiere is set for Wednesday, March 28.

The WB's decision is the first time a television network has offered an uncut version of a program it has been forced to censor on another outlet. WB's move could have serious implications for terrestrial broadcasters. Several network executives told the Times that it may represent a further step in the spread of alternative means for television programs to reach viewers, including iPods and computers. It could also increase the risk that broadcast television will be seen as passé by some of its audience, especially younger viewers.

It is clear that WB network executives are premiering “The Bedford Diaries” on the Internet for principle, not profit.

The show is running without commercials since under current agreements with the Hollywood creative guilds do not permit a commercial use of a program online, the The New York Times reported. However, WB is reaping major promotional value from its decision.

What will happen beyond the first episode is so far unknown. Barry Levinson, one of the show's executive producers, told the Associated Press that other episodes may be a risk.

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