Sanitized 'Sex' starts tonight

TBS cleans up show's content for viewers

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

— When Carrie asked Mr. Big if he'd like to come up to her apartment in the "Sex and the City" finale, he answered with a phrase that fans recognized from the very first episode.

His affirmative reply, which contained two extra unprintable syllables, 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 -- 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 tonight on TBS. 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 9 p.m. CDT. 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.


AP Photo

Cast members from HBO's "Sex and the City," from left, Cynthia Nixon, Kim Cattrall, Kristin Davis and Sarah Jessica Parker, appear in a scene in this undated publicity photo. The Emmy-winning series has been sold in syndication to TBS, which begins airing the show tonight.

The cast has even helped out in recent months by recording new dialogue to replace swear words, said Steve Koonin, TBS' chief executive.

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.

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."