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Coupling’ broken up by WNDU

Amanda Michaels | Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Students and residents of South Bend and Elkhart looking forward to the premiere of NBC’s new comedy, “Coupling,” will be sorely disappointed when they flick to WNDU-TV at 8:30 this Thursday night.

Rather than a racy show about the sex lives of six Chicago thirtysomethings, based on a wildly popular British sitcom by the same name, they will be greeted with the first part of “Roastin’ the Golden Boy”, the so-called ‘roast’ of Notre Dame Heisman Trophy winner Paul Hornung, filmed at the JACC.

WNDU’s President and General Manager Jim Behling announced in a press release last Thursday, “Unless significant changes in style and direction of the show are made, it is likely that [WNDU] will not broadcast any episodes of ‘Coupling’ this television season.”

After part two of “Golden Boy”, the station will air reruns of “Spin City”, the Michael J. Fox and Charlie Sheen sitcom discontinued in 2002, in its slated time slot.

The decision not to air the new comedy was the result of a unanimous vote of the board of directors of Michiana Telecasting Corporation, owner of WNDU, which was brought about by recommendations made by Behling after receiving advance copies of three new “Coupling” episodes.

The tapes were made available to all members of the board, which include broadcasting veterans as well as four officers of the University.

“We have previewed three shows, and basically the shows are a little more than a succession of crude sex jokes which, when taken in total, simply push the envelope well beyond the boundaries of good taste,” said Behling.

Behling said he has fielded feedback from viewers voicing concerns about the degree of the University’s control over the station, and many are raising the black flag of censorship.

To quell their fears, Behling explained that the Board of Directors, and thus indirectly the University, has seldom been involved in programming decisions. They were consulted on this one specifically because of its sensitive nature and the possible effect on WNDU’s business relationship with NBC.

As for censorship, Behling said that the station was exercising its responsibility to the family, taking into consideration the show’s early time slot and questionable content.

Carol Kaesebier, a member of the Board of Directors and Vice President and General Counsel of the University, said, “I think they don’t understand what censorship is. We’re not preventing them from seeing this show-there are lots of ways to see it-we’re just not going to air it on the station. I think we made a decision about what the community standards are.”

As Behling said, it’s a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation, with half of the phone calls received regarding “Coupling” thanking the station for its discretion, while the other half condemn it for taking away what they have called its viewers’ right to choose.

WNDU was among twenty stations to pull a controversial show last year called “God, the Devil and Bob”, but stands with only one other NBC affiliate in its “Coupling” pre-emption-KSL-TV in Salt Lake City.