PBS keeps 'King Lear' nude decision under wraps

July 12, 2008 6:45:52 PM PDT
Ian McKellen's acclaimed performance in "King Lear" is coming to PBS, but a public TV executive was coy Saturday about whether his on-stage nude scene will be exposed on air. PBS President and CEO Paula Kerger, who saw the play during its brief run in New York, said she was impressed by the production and recalled thinking, "This is the kind of thing people should have a chance to see."

When Kerger told a Television Critics Association meeting that the play had been filmed for PBS and would air next season, she was asked about McKellen's full-frontal nudity and whether it would be acceptable for public television.

"Let's talk about this in January," Kerger said, attempting to boot the issue to the next scheduled meeting of the critics' group.

Pressed to address the question, she replied: "It's what I think about it and what the FCC will allow," a reference to the Federal Communications Commission that regulates broadcast channels.

Broadcasters have run afoul of FCC decency standards before, facing fines for profanity and, in the case of Janet Jackson's 2004 Super Bowl show "wardrobe malfunction," nudity.

So what did Kerger personally think of the nude scene with McKellen?

"It's powerful. His entire performance is quite powerful," she said.

The Royal Shakespeare Company's production, directed by Trevor Nunn, ran at Brooklyn Academy of Music's Harvey Theater last fall.

The 69-year-old McKellen's performance as Lear was lauded by The Associated Press for "expertly capturing the man's physical and mental decline." The review noted that McKellen shed not only his sanity but also, at one point, his trousers.