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'Southland' cursing: Bring on the bleeps

Why the new Ben McKenzie cop show will be airing bleeped-out foul language, rather than omitting it

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Like most cop dramas, NBC’s Southland features a predictable parade of characters, from the know-it-all badge-brandishing vets to the wide-eyed rookie. But the show’s April 9 premiere did come with a few surprises — eight, to be exact. That’s the number of times the execs chose to air foulmouthed characters’ bleeped-out lines. And fans of the Ben McKenzie project produced by John Wells (ER) had better get used to the censoring sound effect. ”This is a realistic portrayal of police officers,” says Mitch Metcalf, the network’s chief of scheduling. ”We’re not sanitizing it, but we’re still making it appropriate for network TV. I think it’s the right way to handle it.” It’s not like they have a choice. The Shield — FX’s highly acclaimed (and unregulated) series — may have set a new standard for the police genre with its trademark gritty realism, but NBC could face FCC fines if it dares to drop S-bombs like Vic Mackey did. Though Southland airs on the coasts at 10 p.m. (considered an indecency safe harbor on broadcast TV because kids are most likely not in the audience), it’s in the highly monitored 9 p.m. slot in the Central time zone. ”We don’t want to be excessive about [the swearing],” says Metcalf. ”But I think it helps to portray the real-life action while still remembering our role as broadcasters.”