In a sleek home office, an impeccably-dressed man in his 30s sits at a desk, presses play on his laptop’s video recorder and begins talking to the camera, leaving a time capsule for his unborn child. “Hi, it’s me, Bryan Collins. But you won’t know me as that—you’ll know me as ‘dad,’” he says, pausing briefly as tears form in his eyes. “This video is to show you how desperately you were wanted, and how much we love you. You’re our baby. We are just so excited to meet you.”
Offended? The execs over at KSL were. Earlier this fall, as the networks rolled out new primetime shows, Utah’s NBC affiliate—owned by the Mormon Church’s Bonneville International Corp.—passed on airing The New Normal, a sitcom about a gay couple adopting a baby. The plot revolves around two men forging a family relationship with a surrogate mother, her 9-year-old daughter and her hate-filled grandmother, a flagrant bigot who belches out venom-laced stereotypes about blacks, Mexicans, gays, Jews, the handicapped—just about everyone except perfect white folks.
The content, KSL deemed, wasn’t a good fit for its brand or its viewers. “This program simply feels inappropriate on several dimensions, especially during family viewing time,” Jeff Simpson, a CEO of KSL’s parent company, said in a press release. “The dialogue is excessively rude and crude, the scenes are too explicit and the stereotypes are offensive.”
The move wasn’t a first for KSL. It hasn’t aired comedic pillar Saturday Night Live since the station became the local NBC affiliate in 1995 and has given other racy sitcoms and dramas the ax, including last year’s short-lived The Playboy Club.
“We know what we’re getting with KSL, so we accept it and watch from a different perspective,” says Edward Pease, professor of journalism at Utah State University and a nationally published mass media critic. “KSL has a definition of what kind of content they are about, what their audience is about and how they want to be thought of in the market place. It’s a conscious decision.”
But in Utah, battle lines were drawn—again. Supporters of KSL’s decision hailed it as “bold and courageous” and “considerate of family values,” while others called it “repugnant and embarrassing” and threatened to never watch Channel 5 again. It was conservative vs. liberal, downtown vs. the rest of the state, and much like of every argument we’ve ever had when our societal norms don’t mesh.
“It’s been going on for decades,” Valerie Larabee, executive director of the Utah Pride Center, noted after sitting down with KSL execs to discuss the decision. “In the end, we accepted their reasons as multifaceted and [that they] have to worry about ratings and advertisers.”
But in the end, how much do KSL’s blocks really matter? With Hulu, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube playing full-length episodes or offering clips and trailers, there’s no such thing as sitcom banishment. I watched The New Normal pilot on -NBC.com weeks before it made its official debut, and local independent station CW30, which also airs SNL, has picked it up on Saturday nights.
Seventeen years ago, when SNL was stripped from the weekend lineup, things like on-demand TV and websites airing full-length programs were future marvels. KSL had all the power. Now we can see anything we want with a click of the remote or mouse. Nothing is off limits—even in Utah.
KSL has stuck to its decision to keep The New Normal off primetime, honoring the commitment execs think they owe their viewers. Agree or disagree, it will likely happen again when the station faces another moral conundrum, another show, at another time.