Call it ”The City,” Hold ”The Sex.” A cleaned-up version of HBO’s salacious sitcom is strutting into syndication, edited down to make room for commercials — and lessen the show’s namesake raciness. ”From what we’ve seen [of the edited versions], we’re as comfortable with it as we are with ‘Will & Grace’ or ‘Friends,”’ says Marc Schacher, VP of programming and development at Tribune Broadcasting, which bought the syndication rights. With the cable hit watered down to Must See TV levels, could we soon see a bloodless, cuss-less ”Sopranos” or ”Six Feet Under” in off-network reruns? ”In the case of ‘The Sopranos,’ it’s so gritty, such an unflinching viewpoint, that it may be impossible or the producers may not want to edit it,” says analyst Bill Carroll of Katz Television Group. ”’Six Feet Under’ may be a little easier.”
HBO officials say they have no plans to sell reruns of their other signature hits and insist that the prospect of syndication doesn’t affect current shooting. Still, all the shows, including ”Sex,” routinely film cleaner takes for some foreign distribution, so the cleaned-up versions won’t rely on bleeping to deal with foul language. And hour-long dramas have longer scenes and fewer punchlines than half-hour comedies, so cuts could be less painful. ”Other than the language, ‘The Sopranos’ could be much easier to edit,” says Scott Carlin, HBO’s president of domestic television distribution. In other words, Tony Soprano could end up in off-net reruns in a few years — saying ”fudge” a lot.