Oh, the weekly pain of "lead time"

123184559 3935fc921cDon't you hate it when that happens? I shipped my weekly "On Religion" column into the Scripps Howard New Service copy desk at about 7 a.m. today. Then I went about my business and headed into work a bit later than normal.

Not that long after I arrived at my desk and signed on, I bumped into a Reuters story that says this:

The NBC television network is still making up its mind about whether it will allow pop star Madonna to stage a mock crucifixion on its airwaves as part of her upcoming prime-time concert special.

. . . (Executives) at NBC, owned by the General Electric Co. will wait for makers of her concert special to submit the production for review before deciding whether to allow the mock crucifixion to air.

"We're awaiting the delivery of it, and once we've seen it in its entirety, we'll make a decision," an NBC spokeswoman told Reuters on Thursday. The program is slated to air in November, but no specific date has been set.

Now that was interesting in light of earlier items in TV Guide and elsewhere containing quotes from NBC Entertainment president Kevin Reilly and information similar to this item in the San Francisco Chronicle:

Madonna has won her battle to keep a controversial crucifixion routine in her Confessions concert in her upcoming TV special. Religious leaders were outraged when they first heard about the part of the show where Madonna, wearing a fake crown of thorns, descends on a suspended mirrored, disco ball-type cross.

They urged the pop superstar to scrap the irreverent routine, but she refused -- and now the singer insists it remains when the concert special, "Live to Tell," airs in the U.S. in November.

Kevin Reilly, an executive at NBC -- the network on which the concert special will air -- says, "She felt like that was a cornerstone of the show. We viewed it and didn't see it as being inappropriate."

All of this is interesting to me as a columnist who files on Wednesday mornings, yet most of the 800-plus newspapers that are Scripps Howard or Newspaper Enterprise Association subscribers run my column on religion or features pages in weekend editions. That gap between early Wednesday morning and the weekend is what journalists call "lead time."

Suffice it to say, it's painful, sometimes, to turn a story in and then see new developments take place -- but you can't change the text that has already shipped on the wires.

Thus, my column for this week -- written on Tuesday night -- starts like this:

If you were a television executive, which program do you think would offend the most viewers across America?

The first is a children's show featuring digital vegetables that sing and dance and tell silly parables. Each episode ends with a Bible verse and a witty tomato's reminder that "God made you special and he loves you very much!"

The second is a prime-time special in which Madonna sings her enigmatic ballad "Live to Tell" while hanging on a disco-mirror crucifix and wearing a crown of thorns.

If you decided that it's the vegetables that are too hot to handle, then you're on the same wavelength as NBC.

Actually, both shows got early green lights -- although the latter had to surrender its Bible verses and some key God talk. The man in charge of slicing the VeggieTales is Phil Vischer, the heart, mind and voice behind Bob the Tomato and many other characters. He has faced a crucial question while wrestling with NBC program guidelines: How much God is too much God?

I think the odds are between slim and none that NBC will stiff Madonna after giving her act a green light -- in print. However, it might make great publicity for her if she could tease about the forbidden fruit a bit more. Would the disco diva walk away from this opportunity?

After talking to the desk, we left my column stand as written. Newspaper copy desks know they are supposed to watch for news events that might change copy. Meanwhile, are there any GetReligion readers out there who wrestle with "lead time" issues? Magazine editors and reports face this kind of stuff as they produce each and every issue.

What's the worst "lead time" error you've ever seen? Didn't The Wittenburg Door once do a cover poking fun at someone, only to see this beloved person die before the issue was distributed? Does anyone else remember that?

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