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Animated debate over nudity

UPN tells new series 'Game Over' to remove a shot of a cartoon character's buttocks.

March 08, 2004|Scott Collins | Times Staff Writer

First the outcry over Janet Jackson's bared breast during CBS' Super Bowl telecast compelled producers to trim brief nudity from such shows as "ER," "NYPD Blue" and "Without a Trace." Now even cartoon characters are being forced to cover up.

Viacom-owned UPN has ordered the producers of "Game Over," prime time's first computer-generated animated series, to delete nudity and salty language from the pilot episode airing Wednesday, including one two-second shot in which a female character's buttocks are clearly visible, according to a source close to the production. Executives also want to cut a line in which one character uses a mild scatological epithet to disparage another.

The edict has angered the producers, who are said to have argued that the material now deemed objectionable has been in the episode for months and was included in review tapes sent to critics recently. But network executives apparently will not budge, saying that the Jackson incident has created a climate of heightened sensitivity toward sex and foul language, even in cartoons.

The decision has forced the producers to scramble to reedit the episode and possibly recall one of the actors, Artie Lange, to rerecord some dialogue before Wednesday's debut.

UPN is also closely monitoring future episodes for questionable content, according to the source close to the show.

UPN declined to comment Friday, as did a spokesman for Carsey-Werner-Mandabach, the studio behind the series. The series' creator, former "Simpsons" writer David Sacks, could not be reached for comment.

The imbroglio shows how quickly the environment has changed for producers who dare to put edgy or off-color material in their shows.

Once utterly taboo in broadcasting, nudity became a hot-button issue for the networks after the 1993 premiere of "NYPD Blue." Yet cartoons seem to have enjoyed more latitude. "The Simpsons," the animated hit that has run on Fox since 1989, has in previous seasons included a number of comic scenes in which bumbling patriarch Homer Simpson had his rear end exposed. A spokesman for 20th Century Fox Television, which produces "The Simpsons," said the network has not recently requested any changes because of explicit or suggestive content.

"Game Over," which UPN ordered for six episodes this season, is being closely watched in Hollywood because computer-generated films such as "Finding Nemo" and "Toy Story" now dominate feature animation.

"Game Over" tells the story of the Smashenburns, a suburban clan whose members' day jobs involve working in videogames. The scene that roused the attention of UPN executives involved Raquel, a shapely housewife voiced by Lucy Liu.

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