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NBC to Show Virtually Uncut 'Schindler's List'

Television: The network's entertainment president says the R-rated drama will be presented during February sweeps and reveals other plans for the fall season.

July 17, 1996|BRIAN LOWRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NBC will televise Steven Spielberg's Holocaust drama "Schindler's List" as a four-hour event next season, virtually uncut and with limited commercial interruptions.

The program will air on a Sunday night in February--during the ratings sweeps--with only two or three blocks of commercials within the broadcast. Only a single four-letter word will be excised from the original theatrical version that was rated R for nudity and violence.

Aside from the educational value of the Oscar-winning movie, NBC sees "Schindler's List" as a programming event--part of a stated strategy that involves trying to woo viewers back to network television in big numbers, at least periodically, as the network did last season with its miniseries "Gulliver's Travels" and "The Beast."

Toward that end, NBC Entertainment President Warren Littlefield--speaking to television critics in Pasadena Tuesday--said the network will air the miniseries "Pandora's Clock" in November, "Asteroid" and "Schindler's List" in February and a reworking of the epic "The Odyssey" and "Robin Cook's Lethal Invasion" next May. All are four-hour productions.

In addition, NBC will seek to repeat its success last January with a post-Super Bowl installment of "Friends" by airing a one-hour "3rd Rock From the Sun" after the next Super Bowl--despite the fact that the game will be televised by Fox.

That effort to essentially ride piggyback on Fox's audience underscores what some in the television industry have cited as top-rated NBC's hardball tactics dealing with competitors, which include picking up two ABC comedies for next season ("The Jeff Foxworthy Show" and "The Naked Truth," which stars Tea Leoni) and recently airing the movie "Backdraft" to douse Fox's premiere of the series "L.A. Firefighters."

Littlefield, however, denied that anything personal is involved in such efforts. "We need to pick shows that are good product [and] that we believe in, and that's our only agenda," he said.

Despite reports of bad blood between the networks, Littlefield added that NBC has "a lot of respect for our competition" and doesn't "make moves for spite. We make moves because we think they're intelligent broadcast decisions."

, Both the Foxworthy show and "The Naked Truth" will get significant face-lifts before premiering on NBC, with certain characters recast and the latter shifting from a tabloid newspaper to a People or Us type of magazine. Littlefield noted that some of that show's humor had been "pretty coarse and offensive."

The TV industry is planning to implement a voluntary program-rating system in January expected to loosely follow Motion Picture Assn. of America movie guidelines. Littlefield reiterated that most NBC shows would fall into the equivalent of G and PG categories and said that few network programs in general contain gratuitous violence.

NBC also stated its commitment to feature more minorities in its programs, after losing the only two shows ("Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" and "In the House") featuring predominantly African American casts on its schedule. The latter will continue on the UPN network.

Asked about deals putting former NBC stars Bill Cosby and Ted Danson in new sitcoms on CBS and Michael J. Fox on ABC, Littlefield maintained that NBC balked at the cost of those deals. Each star was guaranteed a minimum of 22 episodes, with Cosby receiving a 44-episode commitment as well as additional series he'll produce.

"Some of these numbers are just astronomical and ultimately may not make sense," he said.

NBC will premiere nearly all its prime-time series over an eight-day period beginning Sept. 16, the official start of the 1996-97 television season.

The network has left open 8-9 p.m. Sept. 16, however, when it's anticipated CBS will introduce Cosby's and Danson's comedies. Given Littlefield's stated desire not to give "a free pass" to new programs on competitors, NBC may line up a special stunt to blunt those premieres.

The network also announced orders on two dramas for mid-season: "One L," based on author Scott Turow's autobiographical book about his experiences as a first-year law student; and "Prince Street," a show about New York undercover cops starring Joe Morton and Mariska Hargitay.

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