ABC, which withdrew a potentially controversial episode last Saturday for its new spy series, "Under Cover," is yanking another possibly troublesome installment tonight, outraging the show's writer.
Network executives said that the first postponement was in response to public sensitivities and anxieties because of the Persian Gulf War, since the episode dealt with an Iraq germ-laden missile plot. An ABC official said Friday that the new postponement was made because of its terrorist theme but said that both shows would eventually be aired.
Tonight's originally scheduled episode of "Under Cover," titled "War Game," centers around a pro-Palestinian terrorist who kidnaps the director of the National Intelligence Agency--the show's dramatic equivalent of the Central Intelligence Agency--and tortures important secrets out of him. As seen in a pre-screening of the episode, a sequence in which the terrorists send the NIA a videocassette of their captive rings harrowingly of the Iraqi television showings of captured allied pilots.
The script for "War Game" had been read and approved by the real CIA, including one draft in the summer and a later draft after Iraq's attack on Kuwait in August. The script was written by the series' story editor and technical consultant, Frank Snepp, a CIA agent between 1968 and 1976 who said that the agency did not ask for changes.
Snepp is under court order, upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, that requires all of his writings to be passed on by the CIA. He was originally sued by the agency after publication of his Random House book, "Decent Interval," about his experiences in Vietnam, where he was a senior analyst for the intelligence agency. Scripts written for the series by other writers are not subject to such review.
"I'm being censored twice over, it seems," Snepp said. "In my situation it's particularly noxious because I have to submit this material to the CIA for censorship and that's a long, arduous road for me--and then, lo and behold, I find myself facing obstacles when it comes to the network.
"In view of the increasing censorship of news coverage, this is quite extraordinary. . . . We're seeing oversensitivity of subject matter by the network. And what we are discovering is that accuracy is a liability in connection with this series and we are not in any way doing exploitative pieces."
He went on: "I was outraged. I am so sensitive to censorship. I faced problems getting stuff on the air at ABC News (he formerly worked on investigative projects at the network) and here we have a parallel situation. In Vietnam, we used to manipulate the press. In fact, I was a press briefer, so I know how it's done and how you give out misinformation. I do penance for it every day."
"War Game" is based on the 1984 kidnaping of William Buckley, the CIA station chief in Beirut who was killed by his captors a year later. Snepp said that he was a friend from their Vietnam days.
Series creator-executive producer Bill Broyles Jr. said that it's "a terrible shame" that these episodes should be pulled off when TV is under constant criticism for being irrelevant to modern life and "we're speaking to what's going on." He said that one function of the dramatist is to "give voice" to fearful issues.
The first postponement involved "Sacrifice," a double-episode set at the time of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait last August. An agent for the NIA goes undercover in a renegade Iraqi brigade that aims to shoot germ-carrying Scud missiles into Israel. But the real war began after the first hour aired Jan. 12, and ABC chose to replace the climactic hour Jan. 19 with an episode of "MacGyver."
The "Under Cover" episode airing tonight at 9--"Truth and Consequences," originally slated for next Saturday--is out of the line of any fire. In the plot, a former agent commits suicide and forces psychological studies at the NIA.