LOS ANGELES - Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber always had a moral message in their long-running "VeggieTales" video series.
But now that the vegetable stars have hit network television, they can't speak as freely as they once did, and that's got the Parents Television Council steamed.
The conservative media-watchdog group issued a statement Wednesday blasting NBC, which airs "VeggieTales," for editing out some references to God from the children's animated show.
"What struck me and continues to strike me is the inanity of ripping the heart and soul out of a successful product and not thinking that there will be consequences to it," said L. Brent Bozell, president of the Parents Television Council. "The series is successful because of its biblical world view, not in spite of it. That's the signature to `VeggieTales.'"
"VeggieTales" is a collection of animated home videos for children that encourage moral behavior based on Christian and biblical principles. More than 50 million copies have been sold since 1993, according to Big Idea Inc., which produces the series.
Two weeks ago, NBC began airing 30-minute episodes of "VeggieTales" on Saturday mornings. The show was edited to comply with the network's broadcast standards, said NBC spokeswoman Rebecca Marks.
"Our goal is to reach as broad an audience as possible with these positive messages while being careful not to advocate any one religious point of view," she said.
"VeggieTales" creator Phil Vischer, who was responsible for readying episodes for network broadcast, said he didn't know until just weeks before the shows were to begin airing that non-historical references to God and the Bible would have to be removed.
Had he known how much he'd have to change the show - including Bob and Larry's tagline, "Remember kids, God made you special and he loves you very much," that concludes each episode - Vischer said he wouldn't have signed on for the network deal.
"I would have declined partly because I knew a lot of fans would feel like it was a sellout or it was done for money," he said, adding that "there weren't enough shows that could work well without those (religious) references."
All programs set to air on NBC must meet the network's broadcast standards, said Alan Wurtzel, a broadcast standards executive. "VeggieTales" was treated the same as any other program, he said.
"There's a fine line of universally accepted religious values," he said. "We don't get too specific with any particular religious doctrine or any particular religious denomination."
Vischer said he understands the network's position.
"`VeggieTales is religious, NBC is not," he said. "I want to focus people more on `Isn't it cool that Bob and Larry are on television.'"
Marks said the network is "committed to the positive messages and universal values" of the show and expects "VeggieTales" to continue airing.
But Bozell isn't satisfied.
"If NBC is so concerned about that four-letter-word God, then they shouldn't have taken `VeggieTales'," he said. "This just documents the disconnect between Hollywood and the real world."