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''Under Cover'' is too close to the truth

”Under Cover” is too close to the truth — ABC postpones two episodes of the drama

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When Frank Snepp writes an episode of Under Cover, ABC’s new spy drama about a married couple who lead double lives as secret agents, he has to run his script by a double set of censors — ABC’s watchdogs and his former boss, the Central Intelligence Agency. Oddly enough, the network and not the agency has proved the tougher critic; in January ABC executives postponed two consecutive Under Cover episodes they feared might offend audiences because, in the words of an ABC press release, they were ”inappropriate” due to ”the unforeseen similarity between this fictitious entertainment and the very grim realities of war.”

”We were too on the mark,” says Snepp, 48, who served as a CIA agent from 1968 to 1976 and knows the agency’s legal reach: His book Decent Interval, about his years as an agent in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War, stirred controversy and CIA legal action when it was published 14 years ago. Since a 1980 Supreme Court ruling, he has been required to submit his material to CIA officials before it is sent into production.

In the first episode ABC pulled (which had been set to air Jan. 19 and is postponed indefinitely), an agent for the ”National Intelligence Agency” goes undercover in an Iraqi military division that fires germ-laden Scud missiles into Israel. In the second, a Palestinian terrorist kidnaps the NIA’s director, releases his videotaped statements, then tortures him. Will the fate of the show, which is already low in the ratings, rest on the course of the war or just with network nervousness?

ABC did relent, airing the second questionable episode Feb. 2. ”It’s very tough to start a new show when there’s all this confusion,” says William Broyles Jr., Under Cover‘s executive producer and a cocreator of the Vietnam series China Beach. ”But I want to keep this in perspective. There is a war on and real people are dying. This is just television.”