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september 27, 2006

Muted Vegetables? VeggieTales Goes to NBC

Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber have been muzzled by NBC, according to the conservative media-watchdog group, the Parents Television Council. The group issued a statement last week blasting NBC for editing out references to God from the popular children's animated show that is now airing on Saturday mornings.

"What struck me and continues to strike me is the inanity of ripping the heart and soul out of a successful product and not thinking that there will be consequences to it," said L. Brent Bozell, president of the Parents Television Council. "The series is successful because of its biblical world view, not in spite of it. That's the signature to 'VeggieTales.'"

But according to NBC spokeswoman Rebecca Marks, the show was edited to comply with the network's broadcast standards. "Our goal is to reach as broad an audience as possible with these positive messages while being careful not to advocate any one religious point of view."

VeggieTales creator Phil Vischer was responsible for preparing the episodes for broadcasting on NBC. But he said he didn't know until just weeks before the shows were to begin airing that the non-historical references to God and the Bible would have to be removed. (Read a full explanation on his Web site).

According to the statement on Vischer's Web site, on August 14th, just two weeks before the first three episodes had to be delivered to NBC, he was sitting at a meeting with the head of Big Idea who leaned over and said, "NBC says we can't say 'God made you special and he loves you very much'."

"I think I turned visibly white," Vischer said on his site.  "'How are we supposed to end the show, then?' I asked.  He didn't have an answer." 

Vischer said that had he known that he have to remove key references to God he wouldn't have signed on for the network deal.

"I would have declined partly because I knew a lot of fans would feel like it was a sellout or it was done for money." He added that there weren't enough shows that could work well without the religious references.

"There's a fine line of universally accepted religious values," said NBC broadcast standards executive Alan Wurtzel in an Associated Press story by Sandy Cohen. "We don't get too specific with any particular religious doctrine or any particular religious denomination." According to Wurtzel, VeggieTales was treated the same as any other program on NBC.

In the AP story, Vischer said that he understands the network's position. "VeggieTales is religious, NBC is not. I want to focus people more on 'Isn't it cool that Bob and Larry are on television."

Marks said the network is "committed to the positive message and universal values" of the show and expects VeggieTales to continue airing.

Bozell isn't impressed with the network's response. "If NBC is so concerned about the four-letter-word God, then they shouldn't have taken 'VeggieTales.' This just documents the disconnect between Hollywood and the real world."

Big Idea, the company that owns VeggieTales posted this statement on their Web site:

When we were presented with the opportunity to reach a mass television audience, we knew that certain religious references would not be allowed on a children's block under current TV network guidelines. And we recognized that we were not going to change the rules of network television overnight.

In light of this, "Can Big Idea continue to fulfill its mission of enhancing the spiritual and moral fabric of society through creative media?" became the question we had to answer. Can VeggieTales make a difference on Saturday morning? We think so.

Recognizing that we are making a difference to Saturday morning TV by bringing programming that is "absent of bad and has a presence of good" to homes across America, would we still prefer to air the un-edited versions of VeggieTales on TV? Absolutely! It's there where we're able to share a Bible verse and encourage kids by telling them God made them special and He loves them very much. For now, we're hoping a new cross section of kids will fall in love with Bob & Larry, go deeper into VeggieTales and eventually fall in love with the God who made them. It's the same "big idea" we've worked on for over 13 years.

We are grateful for the overwhelming support from our fans that have grown up watching VeggieTales. Many of you have written to cheer us on -- we appreciate you! If the television ratings are any indication, we are finding a new audience of children who are enjoying our shows and hearing our message for the first time! Our thanks to NBC for helping bring VeggieTales to this new audience.

Message Board: What do you think about NBC requiring VeggieTales to remove references to God and the Bible in order to be aired on their network?

You can get Phil Vischer's perspective on the NBC story at his Web site

More from Big Idea

You can chime in on the "VeggieTales on TV" message board on Big Idea's Web site.

NBC's Saturday morning line-up, featuring "VeggieTales" and "3-2-1 Penguins" by Big Idea.

Read the VeggieTales press release on the Parents Television Council Web site

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