One of the most controversial shows in TV history -- "Playing for Time" (CBS, Tuesday, 8-11 p.m., check local listings) -- will be airing fully sponsored, according to CBS officials, on all CBS-affiliated stations despite continuing opposition, advertiser resistance, and threats of boycott by some Jewish organizations. They are incensed by what they consider the "insensitive" casting of the pro-PLO, anti-Zionist actress, Vanessa Redgrave, in the role of a half-Jewish inmate of Auschwitz.
The author of the origianl book, Fania Fenelon, has now announced that she favors a boycott and will sue CBS on "moral grounds."
Paul J. Isaccson, vice-president for sales of the CBS TV network, told the Monitor: "It has not been an easy sell . . . but by air time I guarantee you that we will be sold out to participating advertisers."
Mr. Isacsson explained that top CBS officials have decided to minimize potentially objectionable advertising interference with the delicate subject matter by interposing long black spaces between the story and the commercials. He explained that CBS had carefully studied viewer objections to the nature of some of the "Holocaust" advertising on NBC two years ago and was acting accordingly.
With all the well-publicized controversy surrounding the three-hour film, adapted by Arthur Miller from a memoir by Fania Fenelon, what was once expected to be a ratings loser for CBS may turn out to be one of its highest-rated shows of the seaon, even though in the long run it may not prove to be a moneymaker. While the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Congress still object to the casting, they have not been recommending a boycott, as does the Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies. A recent issue of Newsweek fed the controversy even more with its cover blurb reading "The Vanessa Redgrave Controversy."
Twelve of the other actresses in the production have signed an open letter defending the film itself and decrying the concentration on Miss Redgrave's casting.
One of the signers is co-star Jane Alexander, who visited the Monitor's New York bureau to maker her position clear.
"Vanessa's whole image as a political being has already unbalanced the show, as far as I am concerned," she said.
Miss Alexander hints that she questions the original casting judgment involved. "I think there was a lot of naivete in hiring Vanessa to begin with. If it wasn't naivete, then I'm shocked. But if it was naivete, then it's human fallibility, and we can understand that. And once she was hired, I think it would have been discriminatory to fire her. So, we live with these things. . . ."
Miss Alexander did not recall with any great pleasure the actual filming of the show at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pa., ironically in an old German POW camp, complete with WWII graffiti in German.
"Security was very tight. We all had dog tags to identify us and there was barbed wire all around the area where we were shooting. Not just because they wanted a real Auschwitz look, but because of security for Vanessa."
Miss Alexander explained that the women in the cast developed an extraordinary sense of camaraderie because of the subject matter and the confined nature of the filming.
"There may be times when you watch Jane Fonda or Vanessa Redgrave that their publicized political activities take you right out of the piece. With Vanessa, people may now stop and say, 'Oh, she's a PLO sympathizer,' when they ought to be thinking of her as Fania Fenelon. Vanessa is such a superb actress that I think it is to her credit that those instances are very rare."
But isn't the real issue the fact that some people believe Miss Redgrave is likely to use her role in "Playing for Time" as a soapboax to denounce the beliefs of the very people the play is portraying? They find that objectionable. Isn't that point of view understandable?
"It certainly is. Already the Vanessa controversy is distorting people's attitudes toward a very important film. Vanessa is a political animal first, an actress second. And thus she is very likely to use her position as an actress to battle for her political beliefs. Her main allegiance is to her political beliefs. My first allegiance is not -- it is to art."