NBC Flack on Utah: ‘Apparently Their Sense of Humor Is Different …’

NBC affiliates in conservative-minded locales agree: The network’s new animated sitcom about a Jerry Garcia-lookalike God, the devil and a Detroit autoworker is un-Godly.

“God, the Devil and Bob” Four more stations have announced that they’ll refuse to air “God, the Devil and Bob” in its scheduled 8:30 p.m. EST/PST time slot Thursday. That brings the total number of naysaying affiliates to six, including all three NBC stations in Idaho (KPVI-TV in Pocatello, KTVB in Boise, KTFT in Twin Falls), one in Louisiana (KTAL in Shreveport), one in Mississippi (WTVA in Tupelo) and one in Utah (KSL in Salt Lake City).

The affiliates also will ban the offending midseason replacement when it moves to Tuesdays at 8:30 p.m. EST/PST starting next week. Instead, the local programmers have come up with some interesting and not-so-interesting curios.

The Boise affiliate, for instance, will replace Thursday’s premiere episode with “The Best of John Miller,” a compilation of stories by the lifestyle reporter for the local news station. Other replacement shows include “Wheel of Fortune” in Pocatello, “Mad About You” in Salt Lake City and “Judge Mills Lane” in Shreveport, La.

For the record, only the Salt Lake City affiliate has banned “God, the Devil and Bob” outright. The other five stations will air the toon late at night, when kiddies are less likely to be subjected to the blasphemy. In Shreveport and Boise, the series will run at midnight Saturday (after that hedonic “Saturday Night Live”). And even in Salt Lake City, the town won’t be “God”-less. There, NBC has sold the show to rival KUWB-TV, a WB affiliate.

What’s the beef with the show, anyway? “‘God, the Devil and Bob’ is an animated sitcom in which the main character, Bob, deals with the moral dilemma of good vs. evil in each episode,” an NBC statement says. “As such, it follows in the long tradition of entertainment vehicles that comedically depict this universal struggle.”

Or, put another way, it’s “Faust” meets “King of the Hill.” The main character, Bob Alman (voiced by “3rd Rock From the Sun” alien French Stewart), is an auto assembly-line employee hand-picked by the devil (Alan Cumming) — as part of a bet with God (James Garner) — to see if mankind is worth salvation. God looks a lot like the Grateful Dead’s late fast-food-eating guitarist, Jerry Garcia, which might be at the root of some objections to the show.

The flap began last week when the Salt Lake affiliate, KSL-TV (which is run by a company that’s owned by the Mormon Church), was the first to pre-empt “God.” The station’s vice president, Al Henderson, told Daily Variety that the show got bumped because it “was not very funny,” and “we found some of the humor tasteless.” Henderson insisted that the cancellation wasn’t due to religious reasons, but said, “We don’t apologize for setting a standard in what we believe in.”

Other stations quietly followed suit. An employee at Shreveport affiliate KTAL-TV told Hollywood.com, “It was the programming director’s decision, and today is her day off.”

NBC spokeswoman Leslie Reed says the network doesn’t expect ratings for the new show to be torpedoed by the renegade affiliates.

“These are very small markets. We’re not talking about losing a lot of viewers here,” Reed says. “And we’re up against ‘Millionaire’ [on ABC], so a few viewers won’t really make a difference.”

That’s the fighting spirit.

Maybe NBC’s just weary. Last summer, the network went through much the same trouble when good ol’ Salt Lake refused to air “Stressed Eric,” an animated British sitcom that died after just two broadcasts.

“Apparently their sense of humor [in Utah] is different than ours,” Reed says.

It might be different in other parts of the country, too. Other so-called “Bible Belt” stations were expected to join the “God, the Devil and Bob” blackout before Thursday’s premiere.

Matthew Carlson, an executive producer of “God, the Devil and Bob,” tells Variety that he expected at least some of the controversy, given the fact that the show stars, well, God. “I do know with some people, anytime you do anything about God, they’ll be upset.”

Especially when the Creator looks like a hippie.

But, would Jerry Garcia take offense at a God that resembled him? There’s been no word yet from the psychedelic rock-icon’s estate.