UPDATED: The CW’s Reign is ready to court some more controversy with a bold experiment that could be a new way for broadcasters to release edgy TV shows.
In what could be a network TV first, The CW will present two versions of this week’s episode — an on-air cut that meets broadcast content standards and an uncensored “too hot for TV” version that will stream exclusively online. The difference between the versions? The editing of two sex scenes.
Networks have released more risque edits of episodes in the past, but it was typically on home video long after the episode had originally aired (such as a couple “banned” episodes of Family Guy). Or the cuts were online, but were merely longer and not more graphic (such as NBC’s Parks and Recreation and CBS’ How I Met Your Mother director’s cuts of a couple episodes). But in this case, a broadcaster is unveiling two versions of the same episode during the same week, with one cut containing content that was ordered removed by the network’s standards department. The closest analogy might be CBS’ uncensored online feed for the Big Brother house, though that’s a reality series instead of a scripted show.
The CW, which targets adults 18-34, would not comment on what exactly happens in the Reign scenes, but a spokesperson noted the network is not adding R-rated content here — just offering a more sexually intense edit of the existing program. One scene is at the start of the episode and the other is near the end. The latter involves Mary, Queen of Scots (Adelaide Kane), who this week chooses between King Henry II’s two sons who have been vying for her love. The on-air version will air Thursday at 9 p.m.; the online version will be posted on The CW’s site Friday morning.
Broadcast networks have watched as cable networks increasingly push the content envelope. If The CW’s strategy results in a surge to the online episode, perhaps this two-version method could be a way for other networks to likewise stunt harder-edged hours — doing an uncut online version is arguably a loophole opportunity in the otherwise content-restrictive broadcast network distribution model. The only downside is a slight increase in additional labor to produce and release two edits.
As Reign fans know, this is hardly the first time the period drama has raised eyebrows. Reign previously made headlines with a female masturbation scene in its pilot rough cut that was subsequently toned down for broadcast. The dual-release strategy could have been used to resolve that issue but an insider says this method simply hadn’t been considered yet. Future Reign episodes include a character dying during sex and a threesome. So clearly, The CW has no plans to, um, Reign it in.
UPDATE: The Parents Television Council issued a statement condemning The CW’s plan:
“The CW Network is doing parents no favors by allowing children unfettered access to sexual content from this young adult and teen-targeted show online,” said Dan Isett, PTC director of communications and policy. “It’s appalling that a broadcast network would flaunt broadcast standards in this manner and the network should be condemned for this action … There’s a reason that the CW Network’s own standards department cut the two sex scenes from the broadcast version – they weren’t appropriate for television. So what makes them appropriate to post online where presumably children will be able to watch them with no rating or blocking capability? Nothing. The CW Network should be ashamed.”
Here’s a teaser image from one of the scenes in the episode: