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Friday, February 04, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

While PBS burrows, KCTS airs "Buster"

Kay McFadden / Times staff columnist

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A "Postcards from Buster" episode featuring lesbian moms sparked a controversy.

When you bend over too often, you invite a kick in the rear. Stand up and you stand proud.

PBS attempted to placate the U.S. Department of Education by pulling an episode of the children's show "Postcards from Buster" in which Buster, an animated bunny, visits real-life kids with real-life lesbian parents in Vermont.

The move wasn't enough. Apparently, witch-burnings are next on Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings' agenda.

Yesterday, Broadcasting & Cable magazine broke the news that the DOE has disinvited Carol Greenwald, executive producer of "Postcards from Buster," from speaking at a children's television conference that the DOE and PBS are co-sponsoring in Baltimore.

PBS' humiliation is complete. It has become the Neville Chamberlain of TV, a pitiable symbol of appeasement subject to every funding threat the government issues.

Not so KCTS-TV in Seattle.

Wednesday, KCTS executives announced they will air the episode titled "Sugartime" of "Postcards from Buster" next Friday, in the series' usual 4:30 p.m. weekday time slot.

"It just seemed the right thing to do," said station general manager Randy Brinson, who requested a screening after the series' producing station, WGBH-TV in Boston, said it would make copies available to other PBS stations. KCTS joins more than two dozen PBS member stations that also have opted to air "Sugartime."

Brinson determined the episode satisfied the educational intent of the program and was no different from other installments of "Postcards from Buster" featuring children with single parents, mixed-race parents and only grandparents.

The hot-potato topic of homosexuality threatens to obscure the fundamental thrust of the decision. Put simply, Brinson and KCTS have displayed faith in their audience.

"The major point that rings clear for me is we need to respect the intelligence of our kids," he said. "Children already know there are families of all shapes, sizes and flavors. That's the way the world is, and to pretend otherwise is a disservice to them."

Asked if he had concerns given the current climate of government- and self-imposed censorship, Brinson reshaped the question.

"When do we compromise or appease or stand firm?" he said. "The easy answer is to stand firm all the time and not get in the position of calculating what the possible outcome will be. If we worry about what everyone will think, we're not standing on merit."

Brinson said he is willing to take whatever feedback comes from the decision. To prove it, here's his personal e-mail address:

PBS president Pat Mitchell is learning the lessons of politicking and principle the hard way. All her vast efforts are fruitless if public television becomes a reflection of whatever administration happens to be in charge.

Yet it's no surprise. Over the past 15 years, PBS has ceded more and more programming territory to the whims of Congress and the White House.

First, public television decided not to pursue the sequel to Armistead Maupin's racy San Francisco-set "Tales of the City." From there it was a short jaunt to offering member stations two different versions of "Moll Flanders," one buxom and one wholesome.

Now there are no choices. Last season's gritty teleplay "Cop Shop" had all expletives bleeped. The shot of a naked body from the recent documentary "Auschwitz: Inside the Nazi State" was blurred.

In the HBO film "Dirty War," a scene showing the front of a nude woman being scrubbed down after a fictional chemical attack will be altered when PBS airs it Feb. 23. The movie is one of three HBO productions getting a second showing on PBS this year.

Taken one by one, these examples seem picayune. Collectively, they illustrate the perils of sanitizing a network into meaninglessness.

Poor PBS. The increased blandness of its adult fiction has helped lose corporate funding for series like "Masterpiece Theatre." Now, it's got a government overlord whose programming policy is to render unto the public a reflection of Caesar's taste in TV.

Super Bowl blahs


Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake at last year's Super Bowl. Surely Paul McCartney won't have a wardrobe malfunction Sunday.

Fox will try to play it both ways this Sunday with a Super Bowl half-time show guaranteed not to offend and an episode of "The Simpsons" that renders unto God what is God's — namely, the Super Bowl half-time show.

Trying to make amends for last year's Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunction, the organizers of Super Bowl XXXIX are transforming "Breastgate" into "Building Bridges."

That's this year's Super Bowl theme, and who better than Paul McCartney to embody such a vaguely pleasing trope? It's been 30 years since a Wings song got banned from the airwaves and one suspects Sir Paul won't scream, "I'm gonna do it to you, gonna do it, sweet banana!" in front of a billion viewers. But it would be cool if he did.

To compensate for this reputation-damaging display of cheery innocence, Fox will attempt to recoup immediately afterward with "The Simpsons" and then the new animated series "American Dad."

"The Simpsons" features the unlikely pairing of Homer Simpson and Ned Flanders, charged by the NFL with putting together an acceptable half-time display: a biblical pageant.

I wish the execution were as good as the concept. Although the long setup has a few jokes — Homer's end-zone showboating gets condemned and then aired endlessly on the ESPN-lampooning "Jock Center" — the overall satire has little bite.

"American Dad," from the creators of "Family Guy," isn't much better.

The premise of an overly patriotic CIA agent/average dad is as inspired as "The Incredibles," but the TV series lacks the movie's wit and pacing. Lowbrow humor dulls the snarky commentary on homeland security, terrorism and other topical issues.

The main characters also seem too close to a rehash of "Family Guy," though I liked the German-speaking goldfish more than Brian the talking dog. But I'll give it more time.

Kay McFadden:

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company



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