"Coupling," arguably one of the most "adult" shows ever scheduled by a broadcast network in prime time, won't air on Utah's NBC affiliate.
The new sitcom, scheduled to premiere Thursday night, has been deemed "unsuitable" by KSL-TV Ch. 5. It's a decision that station executives say they didn't come to quickly or take lightly.
"The fact is that this is why this is coming at such a late time," said Russ Crabb, KSL's manager of programming and operations. "We weighed this one very closely. There is an importance that is put on prime-time programming. This one was talked about and considered at length."
The language and content of "Coupling" are crude for an NBC sitcom — even one that follows "Friends" and "Will & Grace." Phoef Sutton, executive producer of "Coupling," insisted that "it follows the same sort of stylistic envelope pushing . . . that 'Will & Grace' does. I don't think it's outside the pale of that."
Adapted from the British sitcom of the same name, "Coupling" revolves around six friends — three male, three female — whose sex lives are at the forefront of the stories. They have sex with various partners who change with some frequency.
Many of the "jokes" cannot be reprinted in a family newspaper — but in the two episodes screened for critics, they include multiple references to casual sex, male and female genitalia, cheating, bisexuality, lesbianism, condoms, pornography, sexual performance and threesomes. The first episode ends with one of the female characters exposing herself in a restaurant.
NBC had no immediate comment on KSL's action, although the network is looking to place the show on another local station. KSL has not decided what it will air in place of the show.
And the network isn't ready to step back from "Coupling." Only two stations — KSL and one in South Bend, Ind. — are refusing to air it.
"We obviously feel that America is ready for this," said NBC Entertainment president Jeff Zucker, who insisted the show is really about relationships and not just about sex. "Which is not to say that we're running away from the fact that it is an adult show with adult themes. And I think it's clear that the programming over the last decade on network television and cable television proves that, I think, America is ready for it."
And Zucker, NBC's chief programmer, admits he's hoping that the show's controversial nature will turn it into a hit. "I think that one of the things you have to do these days to cut through for any new show is you can't be bland. . . . Especially when you're a new show. I think that if there's outrage over 'Coupling,' so be it. That is good for us."
Crabb said KSL has "some latitude" when it comes to pre-empting NBC programming, but often finds itself caught between some viewers who decry any pre-emptions and others who expect the LDS Church-owned station to drop anything even mildly controversial.
In the case of "Coupling," he said Ch. 5 had already received an "abnormally high" number of complaints based solely on the network's promos for it.