If you watch CBS’s national broadcast of Boston’s Fourth of July celebration Wednesday night, what you see is what you will get.
Last year’s televised event was criticized by viewers and ethicists because images of historic buildings around the city had been inserted into the fireworks video feed, making it appear that the rockets glared red and bombs burst in the air above the gold-domed State House on Beacon Hill, the area behind home plate at Fenway Park, and Quincy Market, among other places.
A day after the broadcast, viewers across the country cried foul, pointing out that it would have been geographically impossible to see the fireworks above and behind those structures, given the launch position of the fireworks barge in the Charles River.
David Mugar, a Boston businessman and philanthropist who has produced the city’s July Fourth celebration for 39 years and its broadcast on CBS for 10 years, said that he has learned his lesson and that the stunt will not be repeated.
“Overall, this marks 39 years that the show has been broadcast, and we try different things all the time,” said Mugar, whose Boston 4 Productions handles the fireworks show. “This is one we shouldn’t have tried. We meant well. Like I said before, we thought it would be a great way to showcase Boston’s many historical structures on the most patriotic day of the year and during the best fireworks show of the year, but people didn’t like it. And we understand why. We won’t do it again.”
Last year Mugar defended the superimposed images, saying the broadcast was entertainment.
Phil Gonzalez, a CBS spokesman, declined to comment when contacted Monday. Last year he declined to say whether the network was aware of, or approved of, the digital alterations.
Some of the viewers who complained last year said Monday that they were heartened to hear that CBS will play it straight this year.
David A. Perry, a Massachusetts native who lives in Delaware, Ohio, contacted the Globe last July 5 to share his suspicions about the historic sites in the background of the fireworks broadcast.
“Agreeing not to alter things again is a good first step,” Perry, a 46-year-old computer programmer, said Monday.
“It did bother me last year that they tried to defend the move by calling it entertainment and comparing it to movies or [scripted] TV shows.”
Karl Clodfelter, 35, a structural biomedical research scientist in Boston who pointed out the altered footage last year in a blog post, said he was happy that the fireworks will shine without embellishment Wednesday night.
Kelly McBride, a senior faculty member and ethics instructor at the Poynter Institute, a media think tank in St. Petersburg, Fla., said CBS was wise to take the critiques to heart.
“You’ve got to start with asking why there is a problem with what they did,” McBride said. “The answer is if you look at the way the audience views images and video, there is so much out there that is manipulated that people are naturally skeptical.
“Because what the audience does now is look at an image and if they have questions about whether it’s real or not, they’re likely to look at the source to decide whether or not to believe the image.”
James H. Burnett III can be reached at james.burnett@
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Correction: Because of a reporting error, an earlier version of this story misstated how long David Mugar has been producing Boston’s Fourth of July fireworks event. He has produced the show for 39 years and its broadcast on CBS for 10 years.