The pain of "lead time" (revisited)

0310706238 01  SCLZZZZZZZ V55034292  01What the heck is going on with NBC and the VeggieGate -- or is it MadonnaGate -- story? It looks like the ground is still moving under that Scripps Howard News Service column that I wrote earlier this week, the one that ended up being affected by the harsh realities of the journalism condition called "lead time." Click here if you want to catch up on the background of what I'm talking about.

What we have here is a religion-beat story. A top NBC official had twice said, in print, that the network had seen the Madonna special and that the disco-crucifix number was acceptable. Now they say they are thinking about it and there's a good chance that Madonna may be told "no," forcing her to slink away with great PR but no prime-time special.

Also, NBC had -- apparently -- ordered snips in the Bible verses and God-language in the new Saturday a.m. VeggieTales materials.

Then people, like me, began to connect the two decisions.

Now, NBC is trying to retreat on the Veggie slicing. As the Los Angeles Times reports:

In a statement, NBC said the editing was done to keep the shows under a certain time limit. "'VeggieTales' was originally created for home entertainment and in most cases each episode is 30 minutes long," according to the statement. "'VeggieTales' has been edited down for broadcast without losing any of its core messages about positive values."

But Phil Vischer, creator of the show, maintains that the network received five to six episodes, all of which were 23 minutes, the length requested by the network. Vischer said the network requested editing out specific references to God such as "God made you special" and "He loves you very much."

Now, think about all of this like a reporter.

Vischer works in his own independent shop, these days, after the sale of Big Idea Inc. That's a long story. But suffice it to say he is not sitting in a big studio somewhere on the Left Coast, ready to do lots of face-to-face editing sessions with NBC people. I assume that they work like everyone else in the digital age -- by email, fax, IMs, telephone, etc.

So was this a matter of cutting for time limits, when the shows were already the right length? Or was this blue-zone folks with sweaty palms about Bible verses and vegetables that tell children about God's love? Somebody has some memos on this, somewhere. But I know this: There's no way that anyone from VeggieTale land volunteered to cut out the signature statement of their message to children, which would be "God made you special and He loves you very much." No way.

Dang it, I wish I had a shorter "lead time" between writing and publication. Madonna? Bible verses? Punch lines? Singing fruits and vegetables? This may be a story.

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