Monday, July 19, 2010

Holy Crap! A Legal Decision for Modern Times

In the immortal words of Frank Barone (the late Peter Boyle) on “Everybody Loves Raymond: “Holy Crap.”

A federal court judge panel last week struck down a FCC ruling on “fleeting expletives” that cost the broadcast networks big bucks after Bono, Cher or someone else said a dirty word or Janet Jackson showed too much skin on a live televised event.

The decision didn’t get anywhere near the attention that the “fleeting expletives” did.

It was the right call, even if it has upset conservative watchdog groups and it may go to the U.S. Supreme Court.

It really was ridiculous for the broadcast networks (celebrities can and do say anything on live cable network awards shows) to be blamed for not seeing dirty words coming from unscripted programming.

Besides we no longer live in a “Leave it to Beaver” or “Father Knows Best” world, with cable and the internet moving the line of what is acceptable in language and behavior. The controversy that resulted after a bad word here and there aired on live TV actually led to millions more people watching it later on You Tube or on some other website. In other words, the bad words got more exposure and more power.

In my years heading out to Los Angeles to cover the fall seasons about to begin, some of the controversies illustrate how much the language and content line has moved.

Twenty years ago, CBS transformed the theatrical comedy “Uncle Buck” into a series and controversy ensued when a very young character said “you suck” in the pilot. The line was harmless. It meant “you stink” then and now and you needed a dirty mind to think otherwise.

In 1993, the PG-13 language used on the pilot of a 10 p.m. series “NYPD Blue” that was designed to compete with looser cable standards led to several ABC affiliates declining to carry it. Quickly, it became a critical and audience hit and the republic still stood.

Audiences realize that times change and the networks have to change with them. Networks also are aware that the renewal of their licenses are made by the government, which means they aren’t about to go too far and jeopardize their existence.

However, they can’t fully control what happens on live television and shouldn’t be punished when some celebrity goes too far and a minor portion of the audience is offended.

To be honest, it was hard to even realize that Janet Jackson's breast became visible on the infamous 2004 Super Bowl halftime show unless one watched it over on a VCR at the time.

* Sports Illustrated’s Rick Reilly has made a very smooth transition to television in recent years. His Sunday piece on the bond between British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa and black caddy Zak Rasego at the end of ESPN's coverage was one of his best.

* Had to laugh about how Fareed Zakaria closed his Sunday morning CNN program. He noted that President Obama gave multi-billionaire (and Buffalo News owner) Warren Buffett a White House tie. CNN then showed footage of Buffett wearing the same tie at functions he’s attended over six years. In closing, Zakaria said that that consumer spending is the key to improving the economy and that the new tie paid for the government should be viewed as a second stimulus. In other words, Buffett should start wearing the tie.

* I’ve cheered Buffalo News editor Margaret Sullivan before when she wrote about the paper’s decision to end the practice of allowing online readers to say really offensive and insulting things anonymously without using their real names. Of course, I have a vested interest in the decision. I want to find out who “Bobbycat” is since that is the online moniker of one of my harshest online critics over the years.


  1. Read the letters to the editor daily and you'll know who "BobbyCat" is ... Bob Catalano of Derby.

  2. Ah, I see that investigative journalism of The Buffalo News eluded one of their staff once again.

    Thanks, Anonymous, for solving that mystery.

    Maybe Alan could turn his skills now towards that haunted house on the hill... I hear there's a big mean man up there being bothered by some pesky kids.