The BBC recently announced that an explicit sex scene between John Barrowman’s Captain Jack Harkness and a barman would be edited from the UK broadcast of hit TV series Torchwood. This has caused many fans a great deal of anger, with many of them citing homophobia and decrying ‘censorship’. But before throwing accusations of homophobia and hatred at the Beeb, let’s take a step back and look at the bigger reality of how TV works in the US and the UK. Without this basic framework, it is difficult to see why the BBC would come to such a decision.
First, let’s look at each BBC TV channel that has aired Torchwood individually. On BBC3, one finds the cutting edge of UK drama – the likes of Being Human, Mongrels, and, when it began, Torchwood. After the successful first season of Torchwood, with all its fun and ridiculous and wonderful schtupping, it moved to BBC2, the channel for content that tends to sit on the fence between general audiences and art house. As BBC2 has a wider audience, the series earned a larger budget but concessions were made: there were fewer flagrant sex romps but, overall, the show improved. Series 3 (Children of Earth) jumped up to BBC1, the general audience’s channel, and with the highest budget to date Torchwood became sexless – although not loveless (poor Ianto…).
Now, let’s look at Starz, the American network with the dough for Miracle Day. To receive Starz, one first purchases a digital cable package costing about $60 per month. Requesting Starz costs an additional $20. One channel for $20. And what do viewers get for that premium? Lots and lots of sex, expletives (yes, even F-bombs) and violence. These premium channels – Starz, HBO and Showtime – overflow with uncensored content: True Blood, Six Feet Under, The Wire, US Queer as Folk, Sex and the City and even more tame (but still swear-filled) shows like Nurse Jackie and The Big C. None of these brilliant programmes would exist without this high-cost structure.
Restated, in the US, Torchwood is an adult programme on an adult network. American children don’t have nearly enough Tooth Fairy money to pay the kind of cash it takes to watch Starz and they probably won’t be awake at 10.00pm. BBC1, however, as the UK’s flagship public network, does not have the luxury of such a limited audience. Therefore there will most likely still be kissing, but the premium sex will be absent, and probably unnoticeably so.
If in the age of the Emperor Palpatine (surely Rupert Murdoch? -Ed.) we still want our internationally renowned, publically-funded pride and joy, we must accept the trappings of an entity with a remit to serve everyone of all ages. It’s not homophobic to shield children from sex, which is exactly what the BBC is doing and would do even if it were a scene between Captain Jack and a girl named Jill.