Stephen Bochco has always pushed the outside edge of television's tight envelope, and with his newest show the rips can already be heard.
Months before NYPD Blue debuts on ABC this fall, Bochco's gritty crime drama has become a target of a conservative watchdog group that says it's the only "R-rated show" ever created for television.
In a full-page ad Monday in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times and USA Today, the Rev. Donald Wildmon's American Family Association denounced the new Bochco outing.
Bochco, who created Hill Street Blues and L.A. Law, was undeterred by the criticism. He said he stood by his new show, which features some nudity, profanity and one graphically violent scene of a cop being shot in the pilot episode.
The producer may not be worried, but others are. Reportedly as many as one-third of ABC affiliates will pre-empt the new series unless it's cut. Bochco, in an interview with the New York Times, said he would listen to station managers' concerns but made no promises to change NYPD Blue.
Steve Mauldin, president and general manager of WTSP-Ch. 10, the ABC affiliate in the bay area, said he wrote ABC's president Tuesday saying he was concerned about the show. "I had a problem with language and the nudity," he said. "I think some of our viewers would have a problem with it, too."
Barbara Sobocinski, vice president of marketing at WTSP, said the show is good but contains "about three scenes that shocked me." In one, a couple is seen having sex, their buttocks bared. In another, a police officer is ambushed in his hotel room.
Sobocinski was also surprised by the profanity.
Mauldin said the show would be aired if it was "presentable." "They definitely will have to cut it," he said.
"This is a big step for network television," Sobocinski said. "But I'm not sure if that show (the pilot) will be seen on television. It was the uncut version. Most of us (at the meeting) felt it wouldn't be aired that way."
Even ABC marketing is a little troubled. At a meeting of promotion executives last week in Orlando, ABC's top marketing planner said the show is not violent, but conceded that it's pretty racy for television.
"NYPD will be more a problem for me in terms of sex and language," said Mark Zakarian, senior vice president of marketing for ABC. "It's a very honest, very tough, very realistic show. It is also a very good show."
In his ad, Wildmon disagreed, saying he objected to violence as well as the nudity. Wildmon's group has tried to boycott television shows in the past, but the efforts have not been successful. Wildmon did not return telephone calls Tuesday from his Tupelo, Miss., headquarters.
None of this surprises Brandon Tartikoff, the former NBC chief who stood behind Bochco when he made Hill Street Blues and L.A. Law _ shows that broke new ground in television and took some heat.
"Right now, I see a lot of vanilla blandness in television," Tartikoff said Monday from New Orleans, where he's now based. "When you see something new like Hill Street, you go for it."
Mauldin said if the show is not cut, the station would air it with strong disclaimers. "But if our viewers react negatively, we will pull it," he said.
Sobocinski said "WTSP has tried hard not to be censors, but still be sensitive to our community."
She added, "If one-third of the affiliates won't air it, changes will be made."
So the waiting game begins, as WTSP and hundreds of other stations wonder what television's great innovator, Steve Bochco, will do.
_ Information from Times wires was used in this report