The wildly popular VeggieTales kids videos about vegetables who talk and sing and act out Bible stories are being edited for their run on NBC's Saturday morning educational program time, and the network says it's because of time limits.
But the creator says that's not exactly the case, and viewers will have to decide for themselves whether the result is good or bad.
NBC has been under pressure from several family groups and others because of a couple of recent decisions that appear to have a bias against Christianity. One issue has been the editing of the VeggieTales videos, Big Idea productions which now are in a regular slot on NBC, Telemundo and the i network as part of the new Qubo programming block.
Also appearing will be Big Idea's 3-2-1 Penguins! and its 2D LarryBoy Adventures, marking the first time the videos have been on national television
In a statement on the Broadcasting & Cable website, NBC said its edits of the kids' shows were focused on airtime limits only.
"VeggieTales was originally created for home video and, in most cases, each episode is over 30 minutes long. As it appears …. VeggieTales has been edited down for broadcast without losing any of its core messages about positive values," the network said.
Phil Vischer, the co-creator of the characters, said that comment was "interesting."
"As a guy deeply involved with the project, I know that statement is false," Vischer wrote on his own weblog. "We sent them our first episode for TV, which was already edited to EXACTLY the right length, and they rejected it because, at the end, Bob the Tomato said, 'Remember kids, God made you special and he loves you very much.' They demanded we remove that line. The show wasn't too long, it was too religious."
He said the second also was sent edited for perfect timing. The response from NBC was an e-mail with a list of lines that needed to be removed, "each of them containing either the word 'God' or 'Bible,'" Vischer wrote.
Christine the Soccer Mom told Vischer that even if the network tries to pull God out of the Veggies "we know He's still there."
"Unbelievable what passes for acceptable these days," she wrote. "And what they consider unacceptable. (Good gracious, man! You can't tell children that God loves them! What are you thinking?"
Earlier, Vischer's weblog addressed some criticism from vegetable fans, who also were concerned over the edits.
"I think you all are selling out and should be ashamed of yourselves!!" said one. "VeggieTales is a religious show, NBC is notoriously anti-religion yet instead of insisting NBC rise up to the level of God you drug your show down to the level of NBC."
And another added:
"The compromise for the Sat. morning deal is no different than churches getting rid of any mention of the blood of Christ … replacing the gospel with a social plan to take over the world (in the name of God) when the power of the gospel is stripped."
Joining the discussion was L. Brent Bozell, III, president of the Media Research Center in Washington, D.C., who said the network "has taken the very essence of 'VeggieTales' – and ripped it out."
"It's like 'Gunsmoke' without the guns, or 'Monday Night Football' without the football," he said. "Think about this corporate mindset. NBC is the network that hired a squad of lawyers to argue that dropping the F-word on the Golden Globe Awards isn't indecent for children, but invoking God is wholly unacceptable. Or, as one e-mailing friend marveled: 'So, saying (expletive) you' is protected First Amendment speech on NBC but not 'God bless you.'"
Vischer, who created the characters with Mike Nawrocki, said viewers themselves would have to decide whether the loss of a Bible verse at the end of the show, and some other lines of dialogue and references to God, is worth it or not.
But he did note that in the end, it won't worry him.
"Last week it was announced that NBC would allow Madonna to perform, on the air, the song in her current tour (that) she sings while suspended from a mirrored crucifix," Vischer said on his weblog. "I know the audience and time of day is completely different, but it is a bit ironic that telling kids God loves them is 'not okay,' but singing a song while mocking the crucifixion is fine and dandy.
"Let us Christians never forget that we are strangers here. And that's okay," he wrote.
Bozell had written that the VeggieTales videos, which have sold more than 52 million copies since 1993, have been a phenomenon. They've had until now no broadcast or syndication, and their popularity spread quietly through stores like Family Christian Stores and later, Target and Wal-Mart.
Finally someone did recognize the potential, but wanted to do away with those "apparently unacceptable, insensitive references to God and the Bible," Bozell said.
First, he said, it was the Bible verse read by the QWERTY computer character at the end of each video, then other segments too.
"This is one of those moments where you understand networks like NBC are only talking an empty talk and walking an empty walk when it comes to the First Amendment, and 'creative integrity,' and so on," Bozell wrote. "They have told parents concerned about their smutty programs like 'Will and Grace' that if they're offended, they have a remote control as an option.
"But when it comes to religious programming – that doesn't even mention Jesus Christ – just watch the hypocrisy. Instead of telling viewers to just change the channel if they don't like it, or put in a V-chip for Bible verses, they demand to producers that all that outdated old-time religion be shredded before broadcast," he said.
"It's truly sad this anti-religious hypocrisy would emerge. Today, no one in network TV fears what the children are watching – unless it makes them think about God."
Vischer said he wanted the program to be aired because it still carries a message, even though some fans weren't pleased.
"(The) fans make good points, I think, points worth addressing," Vischer wrote. "I'm not at all happy with the edits. I didn't know I'd need to make them when I agreed to produce the show, and I considered dropping out when I found out just how much would need to be removed."
And he said he didn't know if he would make the same decision if he had known that in advance.
"When a general market distributor promise in 1994 to take VeggieTales into Wal-mart if we would remove God from the show, I declined. The increased exposure wasn't worth the loss of the show's primary purpose – teaching kids about God," he wrote.
This is a little different, because the edited shows won't end up on store shelves.
"These shows will only air … and as soon as they're done with them, I'm hoping Big Idea will put them back the way they should be. Was it a 'sell-out' to do this deal? Ultimately you'll have to make that call."
Vischer also noted there was compromise in the deal.
"Well, there's 'compromise' in the sense of Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego refusing to bow down, and then there's 'compromise' in the sense of Paul saying he will be 'all things to all people," he wrote.
"So was taking 'God made you special and he loves you very much' off the end of these new shows more like Paul's situation? Or Shadrach's? … Ultimately, I'll let you guys decide."
A spokeswoman for the video production company told WND that the television episodes will be seen by children – and parents and grandparents – who have not been exposed to the message before. Then they'll want to see the DVDs, which are unedited, she noted.
One fan, Jewels, told Vischer that she was pleased to hear Scripture quoted in "3-2-1 Penguins!" while Kyle said the ministry opportunity is there, even if the shows are edited.
"Thank you for bringing quality and moral stuff to a world and a TV station who need it. Keep up the great work!," he wrote.
Vischer did note that the first-week ratings were .95, which means about a million homes were tuned in. That was up from about .6 for the same time slot before VeggieTales, he said.
"I think if the ratings stay as high in the following weeks then NBC might let up on the restrictions. I hope so," said Alicia E. Smith.
"Wouldn't it be nice if the suits would sit up and listen to what we the little viewers want to see?" asked Julie Beth.
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