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KSL HAS THE RIGHT TO YANK NBC PROGRAMS OFF THE AIR

So, the folks at KSL-Ch. 5 yanked the NBC movie "Shattered Mind" off the air on Monday night, refusing to air it because of its content.

Nothing new there. KSL tends to do that sort of thing from time to time.And they have every right to do so. It's KSL that holds the broadcast license, not NBC. It's KSL that's ultimately responsible for the programming that goes out over its airwaves.

Whether I agree with their programming decisions or not (and I've agreed with some and disagreed with others), I'll defend their right to make them.

The Federal Communications Commission also defends KSL's rights. It mandates that local stations be allowed to pull network programming for content.

And I'm not particularly worried about this particular decision. What is more troubling is the lack of consistency that KSL has shown over the years in deciding when to pre-empt a network show.

As to "Shattered Mind," the NBC telefilm was based on the true story of a woman (played by Heather Locklear) who was sexually abused by her father when she was a child. As a result, she suffers from multiple personalities - and one of those personalities is a prostitute.

The one scene that they found particularly objectionable at KSL came about five minutes into the movie. The 20-second sequence has Locklear's character's prostitute personality in the back of the car having sex with a customer. There's no nudity, but it's a graphic scene for network television. There's absolutely no question as to what's going on.

And the fact is that the scene need not have been that graphic. The producers and director of "Shattered Mind" could have made their point without being anywhere near as explicit or offensive.

But was it tremendously more graphic than scenes in any number of other NBC made-for-TV movies? No.

Was the content much stronger than any number of scenes in NBC's daytime soap operas, from "Days of Our Lives" to "Another World?" No.

Was the content a whole lot stronger than any number of scenes in various NBC prime-time drama series, from "Sisters" to "Malibu Shores?" No.

Was it any more sexually explicit than an episode of "Mad About You" in which Jamie (Helen Hunt) was deriving sexual pleasure from a washing machine? No.

And "Mad About You" is a show that KSL will begin airing weeknights at 6:30 p.m. in the fall.

Not that this is in any way meant to be a defense of the sexual content of soap operas, prime-time dramas and sitcoms. It's simply meant as a question of consistency.

If the station intends to send a message to NBC, that message is muddled at best.

Look, once again, at KSL's decision to purchase the syndication rights to "Mad About You." This is normally a witty, funny comedy about a married couple. And KSL executives have mentioned the fact that it is about a husband and wife as a reason they bought the show.

But all of the sex on "Mad" is not married sex. There are also all those single, supporting characters hopping in and out of bed.

As to the laundry room episode, even NBC Entertainment President Warren Littlefield - who last year actually had the gall to say that "Mad About You" should be "required family viewing" - tried to distance himself from it.

"While the program executives on the show were wrestling with that episode all week long and a number of changes were made, I think at the end of the day what we put on the air probably did go over the line," Littlefield told TV critics shortly after the episode aired.

Mind you, this is a man who has never before acknowledged even the slightest problem in airing adult-oriented sitcoms at 7 p.m.

Speaking as a parent, I would never allow my relatively young children (an 8-year-old girl and 5-year-old twins) to watch "Shattered Mind." Of course, I don't allow them to watch "ER" or "Chicago Hope" or "Murder One" or "Friends," either. Those are all well-made, entertaining programs that are obviously not intended for children.

Actually, with just a few exceptions - like "Lois & Clark" and "Home Improvement" and "Muppets Tonight!" - the Pierce children don't watch prime-time, network television. For the most part, the networks don't program to children, and their shows aren't the sort of thing young kids should be watching.

I'm actually less troubled by NBC's movie "Shattered Mind," which was aimed at adults, than I am by an NBC sitcom like "3rd Rock from the Sun" - a crass, vulgar half hour that's loaded with sexual content and tasteless dialogue. And it's designed, in large part, to appeal to younger viewers.

I'm less troubled by "Shattered Mind" than I am by NBC's "Malibu Shores" - a show that NBC has bragged about because it attracts teen viewers - which had a 15-year-old girl go to bed with an older boy in its pilot episode because being a virgin was too uncool.

And when was the last time you saw KSL pull an episode of "3rd Rock" or "Malibu Shores" off the air?

All of this is just part of the KSL management's ongoing struggle as a network affiliate. They had problems with the content of CBS programming, and they have problems with the content of NBC programming.

Network programming, of course, does not remain static. A year ago, the folks at KSL were eagerly awaiting their switch from CBS to NBC, in part because CBS was headed down a road to becoming more adult and more risque. That network was trying to remake itself in the image of Fox, with shows like "Central Park West" (a "Melrose Place" clone) and "Bless this House" (a derivation of "Married . . . With Children").

But what a difference a year makes. CBS has reversed course and announced a fall schedule with "family friendly fare" in the first hour or prime time. The network will be airing shows like "Touched by an Angel" and its spinoff, "Home of the Brave," "Cosby," and "Dr. Quinn" opposite NBC programming like "3rd Rock," "Mad About You," and "Friends" at 7 p.m.

Quite a difference.

By no means am I suggesting that the job of KSL executives is simple. That there are easy answers. Or that they can ignore the realities of running a business.

But I do wish there was a bit more consistency in the programming decisions they do make.

MEA CULPA: It didn't help matters that I ran a story about "Shattered Mind" on Monday, the day that it didn't air on Ch. 5.

KSL's own program listings carried the change, but the switch did not come to my attention. The change came too late to make TV Guide. And our own daily program listings did not arrive until after the story was written and the page put together on Saturday.

Sorry for the confusion.

SPELLING BEE FINALS: Well, it turns out that local cable subscribers will be able to see the finals of the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee Championship - and live, at that.

CNBC will carry an hourlong special on Friday at 6 p.m., hosted by Al Roker and Sue Herera. In addition to the final rounds of the spelling bee, the special will include segments about some of the contestants and their parents.

The cable channel will repeat the hour on Saturday and again on Sunday, at 6 p.m. both nights.

It's the first time CNBC has been involved in such coverage, and the channel deserves a bit of applause for doing so.

NOT QUITE "PERFECT": It was a bit or a surprise when CBS renewed the comedy "Almost Perfect" for next season.

But it turns out that half of the show's leads has been canceled.

When "Almost Perfect" returns in the fall, Kevin Kline and his character, assistant district attorney Mike Ryan, will be written out. He'll reportedly appear in one episode to somehow explain his absence, but that'll be it.

As originally conceived, the show was about "two successful overachievers who accidentally meet and fall in love and then have to figure out a way to mesh their personal and professional lives." Half of that duo, TV producer Kim Cooper (Nancy Travis) will continue trying to balance her hectic career with dating a variety of different guys - which is reportedly the reason for the change.

In all honesty, there was a lot to like about "Almost Perfect," but Travis and Kline never developed the chemistry that could have made this a really good show.

QUOTABLE: From the host of CBS's "Late Show," David Letterman:

"Earlier tonight on `Primetime Live,' Kathie Lee Gifford told Diane Sawyer that she went down there and toured one of those Honduran sweatshops. She said she was appalled, she was stunned - she couldn't believe what the humidity did to her hair."