‘Sex and the City’ Gets Sanitized for TBS
NEW YORK – When Carrie asked Mr. Big if he’d like to come up to her apartment in the “Sex and the City” finale, his affirmative reply ó which contained two extra unprintable syllables ó was delivered with a wide grin. When the rerun appears soon on TBS, the excision will be clean and precise. “Absolutely,” Big will say.
If you’re a longtime “Sex and the City” fan, the cut may appear ruinous, robbing the show of the spunk that made it special ó or not. But if you’ve never seen it before, you’d never notice.
Those little instances will pop up hundreds of times when the Emmy-winning HBO series begins its run on TBS Tuesday. It’s a landmark moment in television, the first time a pay cable series has been sold in syndication to a basic cable station and must be sanitized to meet stricter language and content standards.
TBS is promoting “five nights of great sex,” and will air two of the series’ best episodes each evening through Saturday, starting at 10 p.m. EDT. The network will begin showing all 94 episodes this summer, in order from the first to the last.
It’s been a busy stretch for TBS’ editors.
In many cases, HBO did the work for them. All along, producers filmed alternate scenes and recorded alternate dialogue, with an eye toward a future syndication sale and because HBO needed a tamer version of the show for some international markets, said Carolyn Strauss, president of HBO original programming.
For instance, during a scene in which Samantha is seen on a swing with a lover, HBO filmed scenes where the swing is visible but not the entangled bodies.
The cast has even helped out in recent months by recording new dialogue to replace swear words, said Steve Koonin, TBS’ chief executive. One new TBS term is “sex buddy,” to replace a more colorful, widely used phrase.
Mere editing wouldn’t always do. TV Guide, which compared some of the original episodes with the TBS versions, said most of Margaret Cho’s dialogue was cut out during her guest appearance as a fashion designer.
TV Guide said it showed the TBS episodes to several fans of the show and someone who hadn’t seen it before and “all agreed that there’s still enough sizzle to keep them satisfied.”
Yet critic David Bianculli of the New York Daily News wrote that something is clearly missing.
“The gist of each story line is there, but some of the edgiest observations and funniest jokes are gone, and Kim Cattrall’s catty character, Samantha, has had her claws trimmed way back, if not removed entirely,” Bianculli wrote.
The only people who can enjoy “Sex” on TBS “are those who don’t subscribe to HBO, don’t buy or rent the unedited versions on DVD, and won’t know any better when they see the diluted versions,” he wrote.
Koonin thinks the criticism is not only unfair, but inaccurate. “The only thing I can say is watch,” he said.
None of the stories, nothing of what made the show great, was fiddled with, he said.
“It’s really easy for people to write about what’s taken out of the show,” he said. “People are going to like what’s in the show, and that’s the heart and soul of `Sex and the City.’ As the show got older, it was less about nudity than it was the trials and tribulations of women who were getting older.”
The shock value in the series was that women were talking so bluntly about sex, not necessarily the words they were saying, Strauss said.
It’s hard to know what the people of “Sex and the City” think about the new versions. The show’s executive producer, Michael Patrick King, wasn’t giving interviews, HBO said.
The stars weren’t available, although they’ve been helping TBS with some promotion.
“I’ve sort of studiously avoided engaging in that debate,” Strauss said. “From the mass of people I’ve spoken to, people seem pleased by the results. Let the viewers decide.”
For HBO, selling “Sex” to TBS is obviously a financial windfall. But the network also hopes it acts as a calling card, letting people who don’t have HBO know about the quality of its series, she said.
There’s also a potentially large untapped market. Most television viewers have seen, or at least had access to, “Friends” or “Seinfeld,” but HBO subscribers are still in the minority. TBS estimates more than 60 million viewers haven’t had access to “Sex and the City.”
Koonin said he’s been surprised that TBS research shows that there’s more eagerness to see the reruns among people who are fans of the show, instead of newcomers. He’s not sure whether that will change when it gets on the air.
TBS is using the series as the centerpiece for its branding campaign. The two general-interest Turner networks are trying to distinguish themselves stylistically ó TBS as the home for comedy, and TNT as a destination for drama.
TBS is both preceding and following its nightly “Sex and the City” reruns with one of its few original series, “Outback Jack,” about a “Crocodile Dundee”-style character.
Most of the network fare, though, is reruns of classic comedies. At a time the sitcom format is at a low ebb on the broadcast networks, that might be a shrewd strategy, assuming viewers don’t get bored seeing the same old episodes.
Then again, who gets tired of “Sex”?
‘Sex and the City’ Gets Sanitized for TBS