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Public should choose programming

Observer Editorial | Friday, September 26, 2003

Last night, when millions of people across the country tuned in to watch the premiere of the new NBC comedy “Coupling,” people in two small areas of the nation could not.

For the residents of Salt Lake City, a predominantly Mormon community, and South Bend, a city with close ties to Notre Dame, the opportunity to watch this highly anticipated show was not an option because local NBC affiliates in those areas decided not to air the show. For Notre Dame students, along with others affected by the University-owned television station’s decision, this is an unfair and groundless decision.

The show centers around six individuals, three male and three female, and their sex lives in Chicago. Though the show passed the review board at NBC and is approved to for viewing across the nation, WNDU said “Coupling” will not be shown until it shows better taste in material. How could a local board of directors decide if a show meets community standards before the community itself had a chance to see the show?

A national ratings board has already approved the show, and WNDU should not make the decision to prevent members of the community from viewing the show. The viewers themselves should make the decision about what show to watch. If viewers do not agree with the show’s material, the station will undoubtedly hear complaints and see ratings drop. Then WNDU could responsibly cancel the show, for it would have a good grasp of what exactly the community’s standards were.

And although the station may have thought the early air time was too early for younger television viewers, parents should have the responsibility of ensuring their children watch appropriate television shows, not the television stations themselves.

This cancellation seems opposite from what other shows WNDU airs. Apparently WNDU entrusts viewers to decide for themselves whether to watch Law & Order Special Victims Unit, a show that deals with graphic and mature material. The station also lets viewers decide whether to watch two fixtures of NBC’s Thursday night line-up: Friends, a comedy that explores the lives of six New Yorkers each week and draws on sexual themes for humor, and Will & Grace, a comedy focusing on the complex friendship of two gay males and two straight females. Why can’t they let viewers decide about a third Thursday night show, Coupling?

If WNDU decides to determine what shows meet community standards, it should consistently apply its policies to all shows, rather than choosing to censor just one of many that might be considered offensive.

This decision by WNDU to not air “Coupling” is irresponsible and unfair to the Notre Dame community. The national ratings board and members of the public, not a local board of directors, should decide whether “Coupling” is too racy for mainstream television. The rest of the nation can make this choice, and the South Bend community should as well.