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Innuendo and the City

A sanitized version of HBO's Sex and the City has been turned down by three out of the four broadcast networks -- CBS is still sleeping on it, maybe.

I can see why HBO might want to sell the repeats to a network -- money is good -- but at the same time I don't understand it. Why would HBO lower itself to running its shows on a broadcast network? That's like publishing a Reader's Digest version of Allen Ginsburg's "Howl". Even if it's something you can do, and even if more people will be able to read and understand it in that form, is it something you should do? What will anyone gain by this?

Back in the olden times when HBO sold repeats of Dream On to Comedy Central, we weren't talking about seminal television, we were talking about HBO leveraging its synergy and Comedy Central trying to fill up its vast, empty schedule with something, anything, besides obscure Buck Henry movies and brick-wall comedians. We were also talking about a tepid sitcom, the only interesting part of which was the nudity; once edited, Dream On's tepid dropped to stagnant.

But these days HBO is a creative powerhouse, striding across the landscapes of both television and film -- often buying films which can't find theatrical distribution, funding unpopular documentaries, and producing some of the best TV shows ever seen on TV. And HBO's twin flagships are The Sopranos and Sex and the City. These are TV shows which often make the term "TV show" look like a pejorative, like we need to invent a new name for something this good, maybe "serial dramatic recording."

Who would win by convincing a network to run bowdlerized episodes of Sex and the City? The network? Who would tune in to watch these shows? Anyone who wants to see them that badly has already subscribed to HBO, except maybe for a handful of poverty-stricken dirt farmers who still use their old rabbit ears -- and isn't that a coveted demographic! HBO? Aside from getting a quick infusion of cash -- and how far would $3 million an episode really go in today's economy anyway? -- all they'd manage to do is tarnish a bright and shining reputation at the forefront of television. Networks are trying to be HBO (has anyone seen Kingpin?). HBO doesn't need to be on a network. The viewers? Yeah, I always like to tune in to edited, mangled crap with added commercials instead of the original. I do my best to hold off on seeing any movies until they show up on ABC, all right.

The only rational reason I can come up with for HBO's pitch to the networks is that the HBO marketroids don't have any contact at all with the HBO creative people. That makes sense: If HBO were programming based on what marketing people think is good, HBO'd be... NBC.


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