Friday, July 25, 2008

Poll Results - Who Do You Think Will Win The Emmy For Outstanding Actress In A Comedy?

Okay, this is going to be short and not overly sweet. Only two of you voted and you both voted for Tina Fey. Tina's picture is probably going to take up more space than this evaluation of the results.

Now I happen to agree with you – both of you – on this. I think Tina Fey is a standout in 30 Rock. Of course it probably doesn't hurt that she's the head writer on the show. Nor does it hurt to be working with Alec Baldwin Of course, since I so rarely watch sitcoms (including 30 Rock I confess) I'm not really in a position to judge the respective nominees.

But still: only two votes!?!?!

I might as well put the new poll up now, in hopes that it might garner more than two votes. This time around the question is "Who do you think will win the Emmy for Outstanding Actor in a Comedy?" As usual it isn't who do you believe will win, but rather who do believe should win. Feel free to comment here.

Two votes?!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Appeals Court Overturns “Nipplegate” Fine

In a unanimous decision a split panel of the United States Court of Appeal for the Third Circuit has overturned the fine levied against CBS for the incident at the 2004 Super Bowl in which Janet Jackson's right breast and nipple were exposed for "nine sixteenth of one second" before the cameras were able to turn away. In the decision, written by Judge Anthony J. Scirica, with a concurring opinion delivered by Justice Marjorie Rendell, the court found that the FCC acted "arbitrarily and capriciously" in its decision. (The complete decision, which also deals with the matter of whether CBS would have been liable for fines even if the FCC had not acted in an arbitrary and capricious manner, can be found here – this is a .pdf file) While acknowledging the FCC's authority to regulate indecent content, Judge Scirica pointed out that it had long practiced restrain in doing so: "During a span of nearly three decades, the Commission frequently declined to find broadcast programming indecent, its restraint punctuated only by a few occasions where programming contained indecent material so pervasive as to amount to 'shock treatment' for the audience. Throughout this period, the Commission consistently explained that isolated or fleeting material did not fall within the scope of actionable indecency." The decision of the court was that "Like any agency, the FCC may change its policies without judicial second-guessing. But it cannot change a well-established course of action without supplying notice of and a reasoned explanation for its policy departure. Because the FCC failed to satisfy this requirement, we find its new policy arbitrary and capricious under the Administrative Procedure Act as applied to CBS." (italics mine.)

While the FCC claimed that "its restrained policy applied only to fleeting utterances – specifically, fleeting expletives – and did not extend to fleeting images. But a review of the Commission's enforcement history reveals that its policy on fleeting material was never so limited. The FCC's present distinction between words and images for purposes of determining indecency represents a departure from its prior policy." But of course this is also a policy which the current FCC has chosen change in an arbitrary manner in their decision against FOX in the case of the Billboard Music Awards, a decision also overturned on appeal and currently being considered by the US Supreme Court.

For those, like the Parents Television Council which cite the Pacifica decision (when a station owned by the Pacifica Foundation aired a recording of George Carlin's "Filthy Words" monologue), the court pointed out that the FCC itself issued a clarification order covering live broadcasts: "Expressly acknowledging the forfeiture order's potential negative impact on broadcast coverage of live events where 'there is no opportunity for journalistic editing,' the FCC stated its intention to exclude such circumstances from the scope of actionable indecency." This is a point which the concurring decision on Pacifica, by Justices Powell and Blackmun emphasised: "Justices Powell and Blackmun concurred in the judgment, writing separately in part to reiterate the narrowness of the decision and to note the Court's holding did not 'speak to cases involving the isolated use of a potentially offensive word in the course of a radio broadcast, as distinguished from the verbal shock treatment administered by respondent here.'" Judge Scirica's decision points to two cases after Pacifica (in 1983 and 1987) where the FCC ruled on cases where language was used that did not meet the "verbal shock treatment" standard. And while in 1987 the Commission did change its standard to "rely on the broader terms of its generic indecency standard, which defined indecent material as 'language that describes, in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards for the broadcast medium, sexual or excretory activities or organs, when there is a reasonable risk that children may be in the audience.'" (again, italics mine). But this did not overturn the basic standard as stated in the clarification to Pacifica or the 1983 and 1987 cases (and in the Powell concurrence) related to isolated or fleeting material. In other words a policy had been established. This was reaffirmed in 2001 when the broadcast industry sought clarification of the FCC's policies on broadcast indecency, which the FCC provided in a policy statement. "The policy statement included multiple examples of FCC rulings as 'case comparisons' highlighting the factors that had proved significant in prior indecency determinations. One of the factors noted as leading to prior determinations that a program was not actionably indecent was the "fleeting or isolated" nature of potentially indecent material in the context of the overall broadcast." Indeed this was an even clearer assertion of the standard.

This policy changed just three years later when the Commission overturned a finding of their own enforcement bureau concerning Bono's statement at the 2003 Golden Globes in which he said "this is really, really fucking brilliant." While in its May 2004 decision the FCC "acknowledged the existence of its restrained enforcement policy for isolated or fleeting utterances, it overruled all of its prior cases holding such instances not actionable. ('While prior Commission and staff action have indicated that isolated or fleeting broadcasts of the 'F-Word' such as that here are not indecent or would not be acted upon, consistent with our decision today we conclude that any such interpretation is no longer good law.'). But the Commission made it clear that licensees could not be held liable for broadcasting fleeting or isolated indecent material prior to its Golden Globes decision." That would be three months after the Janet Jackson incident. And that's an important point in the current decision, even setting aside the Second Circuit Courts decision overturning the decision on the Golden Globes case: "Accordingly, we find the Commission's unsubstantiated contentions in this regard contradict the lengthy history of the Commission's restrained enforcement policy. While "an agency's interpretation of its own precedent is entitled to deference," Cassel v. FCC, 154 F.3d 478, 483 (D.C. Cir. 1998), deference is inappropriate where the agency's proffered interpretation is capricious. Until its Golden Globes decision in March of 2004, the FCC's policy was to exempt fleeting or isolated material from the scope of actionable indecency. Because CBS broadcasted the Halftime Show prior to Golden Globes, this was the policy in effect when the incident with Jackson and Timberlake occurred."

The court then went on to address the FCC's contention that the fleeting materials policy was limited to words rather than images, meaning that the Golden Globes decision would be inapplicable in this case. This relates to whether there was an adequate an explanation for changing its policy. The FCC holds that it had no prior policy on fleeting images and therefore did not have to provide an explanation, reasoned or not for their new policy. CBS contended that the FCC's indecency regime treated images and words alike "so the exception for fleeting material applied with equal force to words and images." The Third Circuit Court found that "The Commission's conclusion on the nature and scope of its indecency regime – including its fleeting material policy – is at odds with the history of its actions in regulating indecent broadcasts. In the nearly three decades between the Supreme Court's ruling in Pacifica and CBS's broadcast of the Halftime Show, the FCC had never varied its approach to indecency regulation based on the format of broadcasted content. Instead, the FCC consistently applied identical standards and engaged in identical analyses when reviewing complaints of potential indecency whether the complaints were based on words or images." (again, italics mine.) They mention a 2000 decision rejecting a claim that nudity in the movie Schindler's List was indecent in which they said "the FCC noted 'nudity itself is not per se indecent' and applied the identical indecency test the agency used to review potentially indecent language. The Commission did not treat the nudity complaint differently – factually or legally – from a complaint for indecency based on a spoken utterance.... The Commission even referred in a footnote to its policy towards fleeting material, never suggesting the policy would be inapplicable because the offending broadcast content was an image rather than a word." The Court noted that the FCC policy was also upheld in a decision on the revocation of the license for WGBH Boston for broadcasting indecent material: "Among several 14 broadcasts at issue in WGBH were: (1) 'numerous episodes of Monty Python's Flying Circus, which allegedly consistently relie[d] primarily on scatology, immodesty, vulgarity, nudity, profanity and sacrilege for humor'; (2) 'a program entitled Rock Follies . . . which [the petitioner] describe[d] as vulgar and as containing profanity' including 'obscenities such as shit, bullshit, etc., and action indicating some sexually-oriented content in the program'; and (3) 'other programs which allegedly contained nudity and/or sexually-oriented material.'" In their argument, CBS provided several complaints accompanied by a corresponding reply letter rejecting the complaint. These incidents included "the early-evening broadcast of a female adult dancer at a strip club and alleges the broadcast contained visible scenes of the woman nude from the waist down revealing exposed buttocks and 'complete genital nudity' for approximately five to seven seconds," and "a Sunday-morning television broadcast of the movie Devices and Desires, which included "scenes of a topless woman in bed with her lover, with her breast very clearly exposed, several scenes of a topless woman running on the beach, and several scenes of a nude female corpse, with the breasts clearly exposed." While the FCC contended that these form letters were irrelevant since they "do not even explain the grounds for the staff's conclusions that the broadcasts were not indecent, much less rely on the 'fleeting' nature of any alleged nudity as a reason for rejecting the complaints," the court held that "the rejection letters illustrate that the FCC used the identical form letters and indecency analyses to address complaints of indecent nudity that it had long used to address complaints of indecent language." Accordingly the Court found that "In sum, the balance of the evidence weighs heavily against the FCC's contention that its restrained enforcement policy for fleeting material extended only to fleeting words and not to fleeting images. As detailed, the Commission's entire regulatory scheme treated broadcasted images and words interchangeably for purposes of determining indecency. Therefore, it follows that the Commission's exception for fleeting material under that regulatory scheme likewise treated images and words alike. Three decades of FCC action support this conclusion. Accordingly, we find the FCC's conclusion on this issue, even as an interpretation of its own policies and precedent, "counter to the evidence before the agency" and "so implausible that it could not be ascribed to a difference in view or the product of agency expertise."

One interesting point that the decision recorded was that it was nearly impossible to determine the actual number of complaints receive from "unorganized, individual viewers." According to the FCC, they received "an unprecedented number of complaints." However, in their brief CBS pointed out that "Of the 'over 542,000 complaints concerning the broadcast' the FCC claims to have received, over 85 percent are form complaints generated by single-interest groups. Approximately twenty percent of the complaints are duplicates, with some individual complaints appearing in the record up to 37 times." In other words the sort of thing that the Parents Television Council does all the time when they complain about "indecency.

Needless to say, the Parents Television Council is incensed by this decision. In a press release PTC president Tim Winter claimed that "Once again, a three-judge panel has hijacked the will of the American people – not to mention the intent of the Congress acting on behalf of the public interest – when it comes to indecent content on the public airwaves. While we are not surprised that the legal venue hand-picked by CBS would rule in favor of the network, the court's opinion goes beyond judicial activism; it borders on judicial stupidity. If a striptease during the Super Bowl in front of 90 million people – including millions of children – doesn't fit the parameters of broadcast indecency, then what does? If the Court doesn't think that the event wasn't shocking enough, even though it was the single largest news story for weeks when the nation was at war, then what is shocking enough? By saying that the FCC still retains its power to regulate the public airwaves, this court shows that its ruling was merely to second-guess the FCC's decision to fine CBS. The Third Circuit Court is wrong, and we urge the FCC to appeal this case to the U.S. Supreme Court. We urge the public to speak up on this matter by contacting their congressional representatives and the White House too."

I can't help but wonder at the degree of legal "expertise" that Tim Winter brings to the table on this one. The question here isn't one of a "three-judge panel" hijacking the will of the American people, since it seems to me to be unclear what the "will of the American people" is in this case. The number of independent complaints on this case not generated by single interest groups is significant but would hardly seem to be overwhelming. The questions turns then to the matter of judicial activism. It seems that what the PTC is arguing for is a variant on that – regulatory commission activism if you will. The Court decision seems to be a well reasoned statement of both the facts in the case and the precedents up to the point of FCC clarification related to the Bono statement. There are ample examples provided that prove not only the existence of the FCC's prior policy related to "the 'fleeting or isolated' nature of potentially indecent material in the context of the overall broadcast," but also that policy had not been inclusive of fleeting examples of speech but also to nudity. And indeed far from what is implied by the PTC description of "a striptease during the Super Bowl," this was far more fleeting than previous examples, the duration being precisely "nine sixteenth of one second." The event which according to the PTC was shocking because "it was the single largest news story for weeks when the nation was at war" simply does not equate with the FCC's position at the time – as defined in Powell and Blackmun's concurrence to the original Pacifica Decision – that indecency must represent "verbal shock treatment," or in this case "visual shock treatment." Certainly this is the case given the duration or the nature of previous incidents which the FCC has chosen not to fine in the past. And remember this is even before factoring in the Second Circuit Court's 2007 overturning the FCC's decision on Bono. And of course one must ask to what degree it was groups like the PTC and its fellow travellers such as the American Family Association, and the politicians which they lobbied, that made this the "single largest news story for weeks" (and let's set aside this business of the nation being at war – by the time of the 2004 Super Bowl "major combat operations in Iraq" had been concluded for nine months and President Bush had declared "Mission Accomplished")? No, it seems clear that this doesn't represent "judicial activism" but rather a well thought out evaluation of precedent and policy and the degree to which the FCC itself overstepped its own boundaries.

In the end one is left to wonder how Justice John Paul Stevens would feel about the matter. It was his majority position in Pacifica that is constantly cited by the PTC as the justification for censoring even something so fleeting as this. In Pacifica Stevens wrote that "It is appropriate, in conclusion, to emphasize the narrowness of our holding. This case does not involve a two-way radio conversation between a cab driver and a dispatcher, or a telecast of an Elizabethan comedy. We have not decided that an occasional expletive in either setting would justify any sanction or, indeed, that this broadcast would justify a criminal prosecution." In other words, even at the time Justice Stevens recognised that there were circumstances in which the fleeting use of expletives could be broadcast. What he objected to in Pacifica was what has since come to be called the "verbal shock treatment" effect of something like the Carlin routine, or someone like Howard Stern. But even more interesting is the evolution of his opinion on Freedom of Speech which might have an effect on rulings in the current cases such as the appeal of the Second Circuit's decision on Bono or this case. In his dissent to the 2002 decision in ACLU v Ashcroft related to the Children On-line Protection Act (COPA), Stevens wrote, "As a judge, I must confess to a growing sense of unease when the interest in protecting children from prurient materials is invoked as a justification for using criminal regulation of speech as a substitute for, or a simple backup to, adult oversight of children's viewing." If nothing else is true, it seems obvious to me that what Stevens intended in Pacifica is
neither what the PTC thinks he meant or what the current FCC has used it to justify. In any event, this issue will bear watching.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Emmy Awards – An Overview

The Emmy Award nominations were announce on Thursday and it's time to give an overview of the "big stories." And there are some interesting stories, mainly around the drama categories and who and what was nominated, and where the shows came from. In this overview I'll look at eleven categories and you'll see what I mean. The Emmy Awards will be broadcast on September 21, on ABC.

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy

  • Kristin Chenoweth (Pushing Daisies)
  • Jean Smart (Samantha Who?)
  • Amy Poehler (SNL)
  • Holland Taylor (Two and a Half Men)
  • Vanessa Williams (Ugly Betty)

The only real surprise here is the inclusion of Amy Poehler, who will be starring in the Office spin-off which as it turns out isn't really a spinoff, for her work in Saturday Night Live. Is it me or is it rare for a member of the ensemble cast of SNL to be nominated in an Emmy category. My best intuition (okay, my best guess) is that it's going to be Kristin Chenoweth.

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama

  • Candace Bergen (Boston Legal)
  • Rachel Griffiths (Brothers & Sisters)
  • Chandra Wilson (Grey's Anatomy)
  • Sandra Oh (Grey's Anatomy)
  • Dianne Wiest (In Treatment)

This is the category that last year's winner Katherine Heigl refused to be nominated in because she said that her storylines in the season weren't good enough. She was right but she came off sounding like an ego-driven bitch who wants to be the star, which I'm pretty sure is not what she wanted when she said it. I think it could come down to Rachel Griffiths or Dianne Weist. Bergen is nominated because she's always nominated and while I think that Chandra Wilson's storyline was the strongest on Grey's Anatomy I'm not sure the show was at its best. I haven't seen either Brother & Sisters or In Treatment but I don't think you can get a bad performance out of either Griffiths or Wiest.

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy

  • Jeremy Piven (Entourage)
  • Kevin Dillon (Entourage)
  • Neil Patrick Harris (How I Met Your Mother)
  • Jon Cryer (Two and a Half Men)
  • Rainn Wilson (The Office)

Not hard for me to pick the two top contenders in this one – either Neil Patrick Harris or Rainn Wilson. Jon Cryer is great as the straight man in Two and a Half Men, and the show always picks up nominations (see Holland Taylor above) but those nominations always seem to come off as an acknowledgement that the show is the highest rated comedy around, and that's the only reason why that show is even mentioned. I don't really know Piven or Dillon's work in Entourage but I think that Harris and Wilson's performances are first rate. Go with the two broadcast guys and you pick'em.

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama

  • William Shatner (Boston Legal)
  • Ted Danson (Damages)
  • John Slattery (Mad Men)
  • Zeljko Ivanek (Damages)
  • Michael Emerson (Lost)

Now here's where we start to see the big trend in this year's awards. Three of the five nominees are from cable shows, and one is from a show on a network not renowned – at least recently – for original production. Ignore Shatner; he's nominated because he's always nominated. I haven't seen Damages, even though it's been shown on Showcase up here, but it's always good to see Ted Danson in a dramatic part. John Slattery is suitably slimy for his role in Mad Men. Still I think it's most likely to go to Michael Emerson for his deeply unsettling turn as Ben Linus in Lost.

Outstanding Actress in a Comedy

  • Christina Applegate (Samantha Who?)
  • Tina Fey (30 Rock)
  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus (New Adventures of
    Old Christine)
  • America Ferrera (Ugly Betty)
  • Mary Louise-Parker (Weeds)

I want to say Tina Fey for this one but I could definitely see Mary Louise-Parker taking it. From what I've seen Christina Applegate's part seems to be oriented towards slapstick and people underestimate how hard that is to do, while I think the scheduling of New Adventures of
Old Christine have hurt Julia Louis-Dreyfus's chances. As for America Ferrera, I've been left with the impression (from what I've read) that this hasn't been an outstanding season for Ugly Betty. Definite edge to Tina Fey.

Outstanding Actress in a Drama

  • Glenn Close (Damages)
  • Sally Field (Brothers & Sisters)
  • Mariska Hargitay (Law and Order: SVU)
  • Holly Hunter (Saving Grace)
  • Kyra Sedgwick (The Closer)

Another Drama category where there are more cable shows than broadcast series. Ignore Field and Hargitay and (and I hate to say this) Kyra Sedgwick. This one is going to come down to Glenn Close for her part as no holds barred litigator Patty Hewes, and Holly Hunter for the self-destructive Grace Hanadarko. I've seen more of Saving Grace than I have Damages and I have to say that Close's role would have to be something special to take this one from Hunter. Then again this is Glenn Close and I can't imagine her coming to TV as a regular except in an outstanding role. Three Oscars in this category and amazingly Glenn Close has none of them even with the most nominations.

Outstanding Actor in a Comedy

  • Steve Carell (The Office)
  • Alec Baldwin (30 Rock)
  • Lee Pace (Pushing Daisies)
  • Tony Shalhoub (Monk)
  • Charlie Sheen (Two and a Half Men)

Comes down to Steve Carell or Alec Baldwin, with Lee Pace having only a slightly better chance than Sheen (who has one of those "we hate this show, but it's the top rated comedy around so we'd better acknowledge it" nominations) and Shaloub, who gets nominated as a matter of course. It's still a two horse race and I'm not sure who'll win.

Outstanding Actor in a Drama

  • Gabriel Byrne (In Treatment)
  • Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad)
  • Jon Hamm (Mad Men)
  • Michael C. Hall (Dexter)
  • James Spader (Boston Legal)
  • Hugh Laurie (House)

Six nominees in this one (the Emmys do that if there's something that resembles a tie in their voting; it doesn't have to actually be a tie, it just has to be very close). Two thirds of them are for shows on Cable. Two of those shows are on AMC and only one is on HBO?! Three of the shows are in their first season. Again, you can practically eliminate the broadcast shows. Much as I love Hugh Laurie he's in a deep field on this one. I'm going to say Michael C. Hall for Dexter but there's a part of me wants to say Jon Hamm for his conflicted but amoral advertising man in Mad Men. Give it to Hall though.

Outstanding Reality-Competition Series

  • Amazing Race
  • American Idol
  • Dancing with the Stars
  • Top Chef
  • Project Runway

Bet the house on The Amazing Race and wonder at the stupidity of CBS for not ordering a second series in the 2007-08 season.

Outstanding Comedy Series

  • 30 Rock
  • The Office
  • Entourage
  • Two and a Half Men
  • Curb Your Enthusiasm

NBC has the best comedies around. Not the best rated (Two and a Half Men and most of the CBS Monday line-up) but consistently the funniest and most sophisticated. It comes down to the low rated 30 Rock and the veteran The Office. I think maybe The Office this year.

Outstanding Drama Series

  • Boston Legal
  • Mad Men
  • Dexter
  • House
  • Lost
  • Damages

Again there are six nominees. Three are from cable and guess where I think the winner is going to come from? My heart says Mad Men but my head and my gut instinct say either Dexter or Damages and I don't know which.


If anything is apparent from these nominations it is that for this season at least Cable has taken charge in the drama categories. And it's not just HBO this time around. In fact none of the Drama Series, only one of the Actors (in both Drama categories) and one of the Actresses is in an HBO series. In fact most of the nominated cable series and acting nominees are from Basic Cable networks – AMC, FX, and TNT. And given the lacklustre performance of the broadcast networks this past season it shouldn't be a huge surprise that this is the case. Sure, they were hurt by the strike but there has to be more to it than that. And I think that there is; the networks are running scared. They're running scared because when they try something that's a bit "out there" like Jericho or Friday Night Lights or (dare I say it) Studio 60 they get hit in the ratings. Sure, ABC took a different tack last season with Pushing Daisies and Dirty Sexy Money and were generally rewarded. But let's face it, it's easier and safer to put on another procedural, or a hospital show, or a lawyer series, than it is to push the envelope. And let's admit it; thanks to FCC regulation (or rather the seemingly capricious way the current FCC has chosen to rule) and the pestering protests of organizations like the Parents Television Council and the American Family Association the broadcast networks aren't in a position to push the envelope with edgier stories and the sort of language and images that some of those edgier stories need in order to be told well. And the Emmy Awards in drama are reflecting this, by taking the term "Outstanding" seriously. The sad but true fact is that in Drama there is little that is truly outstanding on Broadcast Television. The network productions dominate the Comedy categories of course but this is even as the sitcom, which used to be a dominant form, is effectively restricted to one night a week on each of the five networks.

I'm putting up the first of the Emmy polls. The polls for the four acting categories I'm doing this year will run for a week, while the polls for the three series categories (Comedy, Drama and Reality Competition) will run for ten days. This time around it's Outstanding Actress in a Comedy. As always vote for the actress that you think should win, not necessarily the one you think will win.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Poll Results - Which Of The New CW Shows Sounds Most Promising?

Apologies for not posting more often but it's the summer and there's not much to post about... or not much that I can motivate myself to post about. I haven't seen the first episode of Flashpoint yet so I may well wait until the second episode to write about this show. From the little I've seen it looks very good. Also, in a fit of insanity I've signed up for a Twitter account. I'm BrentMcKee – highly original I know. I don't know how much you'll get out of this; past experience has proven I'm no Leo Laporte when it comes to stuff like this. I also have a Facebook page that I haven't done much with.

Turning to the subject at hand, the new CW shows. There were seven voters. In a tie for last with no votes are 90210, Privilege, Stylista, Surviving Suburbia, Valentine Inc., and Easy Money with no votes. In second place with one vote (14%) is In Harm's Way, but the big winner, with six votes (86%) is "They all sound like a big steaming pile of poo."

Of course this isn't a scientifically valid survey. Only the people who are motivated to vote do vote, and there hasn't been a lot to draw people here of late. Still, I think that the seven of you who voted pretty much got it right. Most of these shows do sound like a big steaming pile of poo. I might take a look at Privilege because I've been a fan of Joanna Garcia since she was on Reba, but I never watched the original Beverly Hills 90210 so why should I watch "the next generation." I will confess that the Sunday night offering In Harm's Way seems interesting but I'm not sure it will pry me away from just about anything else on Sunday nights.

In all honesty I don't know what to do with The CW as a network. It's not that they don't have good shows – Reaper, Supernatural, Everybody Hates Chris – but I don't think that The CW as an entity has never really gotten traction. In this at least the whole is less than the sum of its parts, those parts being the old WB network and (to a lesser extent) UPN, and I for one don't know how to turn it around.

I'll post general thoughts on the Emmy nominations later today and then work out a schedule for my Emmy polls which will likely start tomorrow.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Big Brother Idol...For Dogs

I'm a dog guy – I love them, though I confess that I prefer the medium sized guys. Needless to say, as a dog guy I was looking forward to seeing Greatest American Dog, the latest reality competition series that CBS is putting forward this summer. I wasn't necessarily looking forward with high hopes. That way I knew I wouldn't be disappointed. And guess what, I wasn't disappointed, which is good. I wasn't surprised by the quality of it either, which is bad because I wanted to be surprised. There was little to justify high hopes and a considerable amount that was cringe worthy, but at least the dogs were mostly bearable.

If you want to sum up Greatest American Dog in terms of other shows it could be best described as Big Brother meets American Idol with a touch of Survivor on the side. The basic concept is that twelve dogs and their humans are moved in to "Canine Academy." The location looks to be a big mansion in California decorated with dog related kitsch – it would be a stretch to describe anything associated with the place "art." The dogs and humans are a diverse lot. There are several professional dog trainers, and some of the dogs have either worked professionally or appeared on TV shows or commercials as novelty acts. Others are just people who love their dogs and have taught them some tricks and think they're talented. On the whole the dogs seem relatively young – the oldest is eleven years old and the average age is probably closer to three or four. With one exception the dogs are all purebreds. There is however no real explanation or understanding of how and why these particular dogs were picked and why they deserve to be describes as "The Greates American Dog" beyond the owner applying and sending in a good audition tape – in other words, exactly like every other reality-competition show.

The legendary Barbara Woodhouse felt that there were no bad dogs just bad owners. I'm not sure if you'd call and of the participants on this show truly bad owners. There are however some people whose affectations with their dogs make you want to shake your head...or their heads. There's the guy who, when his Parson Russell Terrier reached the age of 13 in dog years, threw the dog a "bark-mitzvah" (a doggie bar mitzvah). At least the man's friends seemed to enjoy themselves; no word on the dog's friends. There's the woman who insists that her dog wears an outfit every day because otherwise she'd be naked. Yeah, she actually said that. Finally there was the woman whose dog works in Broadway plays who takes the dog where it needs to go in New York riding in a child's stroller. At Canine Academy the stroller was replaced by a wagon.

The similarity to Big Brother and Survivor really picks up when it comes to the "Bone Competition." Although the prize is similar to Big Brother's "Head of Household" – a private room for dog and owner complete with special treats for the dog, the key to which is, no kidding, a golden bone – it is more like a Survivor reward in that there's no power associated with one little exception that I'll get to in a moment. The first competition was a game of musical chairs. Well musical boxes really. Dogs and owners had to circle a group of boxes, not unlike dog show stands, and when the music stopped the dogs had to get up on the stands and sit down. As in musical chairs there was one, and sometimes two, stands fewer than the number of dogs. If a dog was on the stand and didn't sit and another dog jumped on it and did sit, the first dog had to either find another box or was out.

The winner of the competition was won by professional dog entertainer (he entertains with dogs, not for dogs in case you were wondering) J.D. and his nine year old English Pointer, Border Collie cross Galaxy. The power that J.D. earned for winning the competition was the ability to send one of the other dog and owner combinations to "The Dog House." Think "Exile Island" on Survivor; it's a place where the chosen team is sequestered away from the others in an uncomfortable living situation. J.D. picked David & Elvis, a New York Doctor and his Parson Russell Terrier (he was the guy who gave his dog a Bark Mitzvah) entirely – so he said – because David showed up wearing a suit jacket. The "Dog House" is what I guess you might call an out building. It's a single room but big enough to stand up and move around in with thin mattresses from David and Elvis. There was a rattan screen and shutters for privacy. As David joked it wasn't what they were used to but it would probably rent for about $2,000 a month in New York. Some of the other competitors took pity on David and moved in a mattress for him and some other things.

The big event of the episode was the Elimination Challenge. Dogs and owners had to split into groups of four and develop a performance that would show off the dog's talents and abilities, and almost as important the owner's ability to control their dogs and to get them to act on command. The shows would be judged by a trio of dog experts: Animal Fair editor in chief Wendy Diamond, Dogs In Review editor Allan Reznik, and dog trainer Victoria Stillwell. They used the performances to see how well the dogs were trained and would select three dogs for elimination based on a variety of indicators, including whether the owner could get the dog to act on command, whether the dog seemed stressed, whether the owner had to manipulate the dog to get it to act (a very big no-no), whether the dog needed a lot of treats to get it to do what was needed, and whether the owner compensated for the dog's lack of ability by performing themselves in a way that would distract from the dog's lack of ability. The dogs chosen as candidates for elimination were Brandy & Beacon (a white schnauzer), Beth Joy & Bella Starlet (an 11 year-old mutt – this is the dog that gets hauled around in strollers and wagons), and Michael & Ezzie (a brown Boston Terrier – one of my favourite breeds although I prefer the black and white colouring). It seemed obvious that Brandy & Beacon should be eliminated. She found it difficult to get her dog to perform on command and at one point forced Beacon to sit by pushing down on the dog's hindquarters. However the partnership that was eventually eliminated were Michael & Ezzie. Ezzie seemed to be a bit of a problem child outside of the performance segment. The judges also noted that Ezzie was licking her lips a lot which indicated to them that she was feeling stressed. Worst of all they thought that Michael seemed to try to take center stage in terms of performing possibly to draw attention away from his dog's lack of discipline. But yeah, I did think that Michael & Ezzie (but mostly Ezzie) were robbed.

As I mentioned, I went into this with fairly low expectations and I will state that I wasn't overly impressed with the result. It seems like they've cobbled together unrelated concepts and put dogs into the mix. The result isn't a train wreck the way a lot of summer reality shows without dogs are and it is enjoyable enough. You do get a real sense that these people are proud of their dogs even though in some cases they take it to extremes – Brandy is a particularly memorable example of this. And of course, while viewers are "hooked" by the gimmick of the dogs, the real subjects are the different personalities of the owners. And the public seems to be responding, either because of the dearth of new shows in the time slot or because they're interested in the dogs. The show drew 9.46 million viewers and had a 2.2/7 rating in the (all important) 18-49 demographic. Moreover it built slightly in both areas between the first and second half hours. Still, I can't give it much more than a half-hearted recommendation. It's enjoyable enough to watch, and viewers can really become attached to the dogs to the point where you have to be the ultimate cynic (like my brother Greg – he finds it impossible to watch just about anything that isn't sports without making snide and even ridiculing comments, usually ending with the phrase "the collapse of western civilization") not to at least say something nice about the dogs. And yet I find it more than a little dismaying that they couldn't come up with something more original with this for a basis. Worst of all there is something about this show that is almost worthy of the description "cheesy." This one gets a very weak recommendation from me but only because it's the summer and there's not really that much to choose from.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

My New Channels

Most of what follows isn't going to make much sense to many of the people who are going to read this, but it illustrates a number of things. Or maybe I just want to do some writing. And if, by doing a bit more writing I get some of you off your hands and voting in the poll then that qualifies as a good thing. The little tale that I have to relate today is going to ramble around a lot because this post is positively designed to go off on tangents.

On Friday I was finally stirred to action by my mother and added some new channels to my Digital Cable service. I've had Digital Cable since a couple of months after the digital specialty services were introduced in September 2001. It has been an interesting ride. The first three months were a trial period that let you really get your feet wet. There were a number of stations that were mandated as "must carry services" by the CRTC, meaning that cable companies that were offering digital specialty channels had to carry them. These "Category 1" services earned that by programming a high percentage of Canadian produced content – somewhere in the 70 to 75 percent range. It didn't take me too long to figure out that most of these services weren't anything that I really wanted. These were networks like FashonTV – all fashion all the time; iChannel – TV about public, social and current affairs; One: The Body Mind and Spirit Channel – focused on the issues of "natural health, personal growth, new ideas, holistic lifestyle and intriguing possibilities"; BookTV – TV devoted to books and literature (which is broadly defined enough they can show The Paper Chase and Batman).

I made my initial selections based on a deal Shaw has that allows customers to great their own packages. At the time you could take individual channels or you could pick five, ten or all of the channels for less that the base priceper channel. That's essentially what the Parents Television Council wants every cable company in the United States to provide for every cable channel, but it isn't practical for every channel unless the system is entirely digital –no analog cable signals at all – where every subscriber has to have a digital cable box to receive a signal. That's because the cable box essentially a computer that can be programmed to block or allow through specific signals, and changes can be made from the local office while you're on the phone with them. For analog systems such changes would require individual mechanical connections made at the point where the cable to the house connects to the main line – impractical both in terms of time needed to customize each customer's order and in terms of cost. Based on other sources I am given to believe that there are no Canadian cable systems that 100% digital, and presumably the same holds true in the United States.

At the time that I got Digital Cable the 10 pack of channels suited me just fine. It allowed me to pick and choose the individual stations that I wanted without being bound by "theme" packages that forced me to take things I didn't want. Indeed at the time Shaw didn't offer themed packages, (today they only offer two – one for sports and one for movies) beyond what you get automatically when you got Digital Cable. Indeed, Shaw didn't even require you to subscribe to their premium movie channels to get the four US Superstations (WSBK, WPIX, WGN, and KTLA) which virtually every other cable and satellite company in Canada requires. For the most part, over the years I've been happy with the channels that I picked (particularly when they've accidentally given me channels for extended periods of time that I haven't paid for). So here's what I've been getting over the past few years:

  • Independent Film Channel – the place where I saw Zatoichi the Blind Swordsman and parts of some of Ingrid Bergman's Swedish movies.
  • The Documentary Channel – where I made the acquaintance of Dennis Hof, Air Force Amy and the rest of the gang on Cathouse not to mention Taxi Cab Confessions (those people have no shame).
  • BBC Canada – where I lusted after Anna Rider Richardson, was amazed at Charlie Dimmock's denial of undergarments, and watched the complete run of Coupling and knew that the Americans couldn't do it justice.
  • Tech TV – where Leo Laporte and Patrick Norton made me a geek and I lusted after Pat Boone's granddaughter (Jessica Corbin). But Patrick, Leo (and Jessica) are gone now.
  • Deja View – Canwest Global's answer to TVLand...but not as good. The only choice in Shaw-town though.
  • Discover Civilization – allows me to indulge my interest for archaeology and other bits of esoteric knowledge.
  • Fox Sportsworld – This used to give me the world of Soccer and other non-North American sports but these days most of the games are on tape, there's no cricket, no Aussie Rules, and "International Fight League" is inflicted on the viewer.
  • Lonestar – I bought the channel with western movies and TV shows. More on this shortly.
  • Showcase Action – mostly action movies and TV series.
  • Showcase Diva – mostly chick flicks and romantic movies (just remember, chick flicks have the best nudity).
  • BBC World – BBC's world news service.

In addition, over the past few years they've added MSNBC, the National Geographic Channel, NFL Network, American stations from Spokane Washington, and Cosmopolitan TV (hey, it's a place where I can see Veronica Mars) to the Digital Basic line-up.

However over the years Shaw's packages have changed. Today they offer 7 and 14 packs instead of 5 and 10 packs for the same price. Of course they haven't exactly made a lot of fuss about it – like telling people that the changes have been made. Unless you've had reason to contact Shaw Customer Service you've literally gone on paying more for less. About a month ago when my mother contacted Shaw about a problem with her bill after we got the HD-PVR box. During the course of the conversation, the Customer Service rep mentioned that we really could be getting more channels for the same amount of money. My mother put me in charge of selecting the added channels. I finally got around to it last Friday.

The first thing that I decided to do was to rid myself of Lonestar. As I mentioned the network had started out as a western oriented network – showing things like The Big Valley and Bonanza. Despite an abundance of product they never seemed to show a lot of the shows I expected – no Maverick or half-hour Gunsmoke. More recently they stopped showing westerns altogether and started showing action movies and TV shows. I already have Showcase Action and they do the genre better. So, once I was clear on the deal that was available to me I told the Customer Service rep that I no longer wanted Lonestar. The conversation went something like this:

She (shocked and amazed): You don't like that channel?!

Me (shocked and amazed that she is shocked and amazed, but not showing it): No I don't. What I signed up for was a channel that showed westerns. It's become a cheap knock-off of Showcase Action and I already have that.

She (no longer shocked or amazed, rather fully understanding and even showing some sympathy): Ah, I understand.

After that the whole procedure went just fine. I named the stations that I wanted and she added them. And best of all, when I got off the phone and was able to turn on the TV less than a minute later, the stations were all activated. My new stations are these:

  • Bold – When this was called Country Canada and focused on the rural lifestyle I wasn't interested. But CBC, which now owns it outright, has converted it with sports including rodeo and equestrian events, arts and culture programming, and programming that includes the current Doctor Who and The Lone Gunmen.
  • Travel & Escape – the name pretty much says it all. Travel to places you aren't likely to go to on your own and see and do things you're not likely to see or do on your own (probably because you can't afford to).
  • BBC Kids – I didn't order this channel just to watch Liz Sladen on The Sarah Jane Adventures...but it didn't hurt. The network not only provides content suitable for my nephew but after about 8 o'clock (my time at least) it starts showing more mature shows including Little Britain, Blackadder, Hollyoaks, and classic Doctor Who.
  • GSN – It used to be The Game Show Network and it's probably the only channel I know of that is proud – to the point where they actually promote the fact – that one of their shows was awarded the PTC's Seal of Approval. Me, I watch the network for the Poker, and the classic game shows like I've Got A Secret and What's My Line? are bonuses.
  • Gol TV – I am a soccer fan and this channel has a number of the Central and South American leagues as well as both the German Bundesliga and the Spanish La Liga. It doesn't have everything I'd want, but I'm not paying $14.99 a month for the English Premier League – heck I wouldn't pay that for porn.

I think that I've got the best stations – at least for me – that I can choose from. But there's a problem, because of the channels that Shaw makes available to me. I have nothing but good things to say about Shaw Cable's local service. When they schedule an appointment they show up on time which I'm given to understand isn't always the way it is with cable companies. Where I do have problems is with the upper levels of the company's management. The big thing in this story is the way that Shaw decided to pick and choose the Category 2 stations that they would accept. Of forty-nine Category 2 English language Digital Cable channels (not counting the HD channels) Shaw carries twenty-four. There seems to be little explanation of why some channels were taken and others weren't. Only one digital music channel is available (not that that matters to me). Only one Category 2 station originally owned by the CHUM group was included, a Canadian version of Court TV that was only added because Shaw carried the American network until the Canadian version replaced it. Only one of the three stations formerly owned by Craig Media was offered. On the other hand four of the five channels owned by Canwest Media were offered (and the exception, the jazz channel CoolTV was offered in Manitoba) as were all of the channels in which Alliance-Atlantis owned a majority stake – those channels are now owned by Canwest Media as well. I'm not suggesting that I would have made different choices if a fuller range of stations had been available. After all I only picked two Category 2 stations the other day, and I'm not unhappy about the choices that I've made. My major concern however is the paternalistic attitude exhibited by Shaw Cable in deciding what I, the consumer, should be allowed to choose from. Of course, given the attitude of company CEO Jim Shaw towards the Canadian Television Fund and what amounted his demands that "his money" because it doesn't produce programming he thinks is suitable (he has long complained about the funding that goes to the series Trailer Park Boys) not to mention his repeated demands for the "right" to bring in more American services without restriction (notably HBO and ESPN), this probably shouldn't be unexpected.

Friday, July 04, 2008

New Poll - Which Of The New CW Shows Sounds Most Promising?

This is the same basic set-up as always, complicated slightly by the addition of the four MRC shows that will be seen on the CW on Sunday nights, and for which I have to provide a brief summary (well, actually Futon Critic will be providing the summary with a little help from me) . Also, note that Surviving The Filthy Rich has been retitled Privileged.

In Harm's Way: A reality show that looks at lives of people doing dangerous jobs for the benefit of society, such as avalanche hunters, subway tunnel diggers, and hurricane chasers. From Craig Piligian, Executive Producer of Dirty Jobs, Survivor and some episodes of American Chopper (and many others).No relation to the 1965 John Wayne movie produced by Otto Preminger.

Surviving Suburbia: A half hour comedy from Kevin Abbott (writer on Roseanne, Grace Under Fire, and Reba, and "consulting producer" on My Name is Earl) about a family and their new neighbours. Reportedly the husband is the main character, a grumpy working class guy vaguely resembling Roseanne as a character. I also recall reading that this concept has been bouncing around for about ten years.

Valentine, Inc.: Originally developed as a feature film this series features Aphrodite and Eros living among us as the owners of a matchmaking agency that finds lost loves, true loves and mends broken hearts. Or maybe not, since this is somewhat at odds with the description provided in a CITY-TV press release.

Easy Money: Described by Futon Critic as being about "a family that runs a high-interest loan business." That's a euphemism for loan sharking. The family is led by the mother (Laurie Metcalfe) and while her middle son is great at this line of work he's not so sure he wants to stay in the family business. The same CITY-TV press release adds this rather cryptic statement: "Morgan must deal with his dysfunctional family in this hilarious unique world of Easy Money" From Andy Schneider and Diane Frolov whose production credits also include Alien Nation, Northern Exposure, The Chris Isaac Show and sixteen episodes of something called The Sopranos.

This isn't a lot to go on, and in fact we know none of the critical details of these shows beyond what I've put down here. Even most of the casting seems to be secret.

The usual rules apply. Please provide comments particularly if you opt for the "steaming pile of poo" option. This poll will run until the Emmy nominations are announced – not that anything to do with the Emmys really interests The CW.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Poll Results - Which Of The New FOX Shows Sounds Most Promising?

I admit that posting around here has been in a bigger slump for a while than the Washington Nationals (my former beloved Montreal Expos *sniffle*) but it almost completely slipped my mind just how long ago I started this poll until I put up yesterday's post.

I'm going to put part of the blame on my new toy. Yeah I broke down and bought my first MP3 player, a 2 Gig iPod Shuffle. Yeah, it's not much and I can't watch movies or TV on it (but then again here in Canada there isn't the choice in that area that you find south of the 49th) but it serves my purposes. All of the used space is occupied by podcasts, including three of Leo Laporte's (TWiT, Window's Weekly, and The Tech Guy), a couple of TV podcasts (TV Addict, and the Hypa-Space podcast from the Canadian science fiction network Space), and old radio shows from something that calls itself the Old Time Radio Network. I download a lot of those. (This gives me a chance to ask a question of Ivan; the other night I was listening to an episode from a show called Frontier Town. The lead actor was unmistakably Jeff Chandler, a voice I recognise from years of hearing episodes of Our Miss Brooks; however in this he was billed as "Tex Chandler" a name that doesn't appear in his IMDB entry, which means he never used it in a movie. How long did Tex stick around before Jeff took over?) One of these days I'm going to have to put some music on this gadget.

Oh and did I happen to mention that five and a half year old nephew rode Space Mountain at Disneyland five times – in two days? The only thing that kept him off the Indiana Jones Adventure ride was the height restriction. This is an example of parental guidance over some arbitrary, non-safety related, restriction based solely on age – his father knows what Brian can take and went with him on those rides. The Disney restrictions aren't based on "this is too intense for a five year-old" they're based on "we can't make the safety equipment on this ride work for someone shorter than 48 inches regardless of age." Parents know their children because for them children are individuals rather than an arbitrarily defined, identical, mass.

Okay, right, the poll results. There were nine respondents this time through. Tied for last place, with no votes, were Do Not Disturb, Secret Millionaire, and what is rapidly becoming the troubled Sit Down, Shut Up. Tied for second place with one vote each (11%) were Fringe, The Cleveland Show, and "They all sound like a big steaming pile of poo." But the big winner, with six votes (67%) is Dollhouse.

This one is clearly a triumph for my fellow Whedonistas. But let's not get complacent folks. After all, this is FOX, the network that killed Firefly, shut off Wonderfalls, sounded last call for Tru Calling and said over on Drive. In other words they haven't exactly been friendly to Joss and his crew. I am looking forward to this show but then I'm also looking forward to Fringe, a show which has a distinct X-Files feel to it. These two shows look fantastic and if they can live up to the previews they could be the big successes for FOX this year. Certainly they're about the only shows that set the FOX line-up apart from a big steaming pile of poo. Do Not Disturb looks like a poor replacement from even the lacklustre Back To You. The Cleveland Show seems innocuous enough, although it's likely to be a lightning rod for the PTC thanks to the fact that it is being produced by Seth McFarlane. As opposed to Secret Millionaire which is almost certain to be beloved by the PTC for being "touching" and "heartwarming." So far as Sit Down, Shut Up goes, I wonder if it will even be broadcast. There's a dispute between the writers, who were assured that the show would be covered by the Writer's Guild contract, and the production companies, who insist that the writers will be covered by IATSE's Cartoonist Guild contract. At this writing the dispute has yet to be settled, and the writers have yet to go to work.

New poll dealing with the CW's new shows will be up shortly. It is going to be complicated because of The CW's deal with Media Rights Capital (MRC). No previews, and very few details, are available for the four MRC shows, so I'll have to provide brief summaries for the shows with the poll.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Who Does The PTC Hate THIS Week – July 2, 2008

That the Parents Television Council is woefully out of touch with anyone except their own members and the assorted right of center (well right of right is probably more accurate) and conservative religious groups that rally around it is pretty much a given in the stuff that I write about them. But let's face it, most of the people who read this blog or most of the other blogs by critics – professional or amateur – weren't offended by Charlotte Ross's bare buttocks on NYPD Blue, enjoy Gordon Ramsay because of the swearing that is perpetually bleeped, have no objection to the movie clips shown on the latest American Film Institute special, and couldn't give a flying "frack" about Bingo America on GSN. It sometimes gets monotonous for me to take on this group every week or so pointing out the restrictive nature of what they want, nominally in the name of protecting "the children" but in reality treating all Americans like children, but my resolve is steeled every time they present an amicus brief to a court or try to get advertisers to boycott a show that they don't like. I mean sure, I'm a Canadian and so far they haven't stretched they octopus-like tentacles north of the border or spawned a Canadian imitator (although the group that pushed the Conservatives to force Bill C-10 through the Commons may be a seed for that – the link is to a search for everything that the estimable Dennis McGrath has written on the subject, which I have rather shamefully not touched) but given how much our private television networks rely on American content, that which affects the United States most assuredly has an effect on what we watch – and maybe even what we find acceptable – in Canada.

Let's start off with the PTC's Amicus Brief to the US Supreme Court in the "Inadvertent Obscenities" case. The basis of this case was a couple of incidents in which the "F-word" and the "S-word" were aired during a live awards show. The FCC ruled that the use of these words were indecent. The networks as a group appealed the decision to split panel of the Second Circuit court of appeals which found that the FCC had acted incorrectly and arbitrarily by overturning nearly fifty years of precedent in the airing of live programming. Of course that's not the way that the PTC sees it. In his press release made at the time of the filing of the Amicus brief PTC president Tim Winter said the following:

Our Amicus brief asks the Supreme Court to address the constitutionality of the FCC's ability to enforce the broadcast decency law. Rather than simply ruling on an administrative aspect of this matter, we hope the Court will fully rebuke last year's Second Circuit Court decision. That decision ran contrary to nearly 80 years of jurisprudence about the publicly-owned airwaves, not to mention running contrary to the overwhelming sense of the nation.

Two federal judges in New York City ostensibly stole the airwaves from the public and handed ownership to the TV networks. They said that broadcasters can use the 'F-word' and 'S-word' in front of children at any time of the day. We urge the Supreme Court to reverse the lower court's decision which clearly defies the public interest, congressional intent, long-established law and common sense.

Actually that's not what the court did or said and anyone with a lick of sense knows it. The court decision stated that the FCC ruling was arbitrary in that it overturned without warning fifty years of precedent which acknowledged that things sometimes are said on live television in the heat of the moment. In their Amicus Brief the PTC cites the Court's decision in the FCC vs. Pacifica case in which the radio broadcast of a recording of George Carlin's Seven Words You Can't Say On TV, during the afternoon was found to be indecent. The PTC claims:

  • Broadcast television is still a uniquely pervasive influence in America, it is still uniquely accessible to children, and it still confronts the viewer in the privacy of the home.
  • The FCC's action under review here is not a ban on broadcasting, only a channeling of certain kinds of language to a time when children are less likely to be watching and listening. The same was true in Pacifica.
  • Here, as in Pacifica, the order at issue is from an agency with long experience in the area being regulated and it is declaratory, not punitive. The FCC has not levied any penalty against Fox arising out of the 2002 and 2003 broadcasts.
  • And, of course, here and in Pacifica the broadcast medium is one that traditionally has been afforded less First Amendment protection than others.

But, though the PTC and indeed the FCC do not choose to recognise it, there are differences. The biggest of course is that in Pacifica the station aired a recording of George Carlin's routine, he didn't come into the station and do it live. The presumption must be that someone at the station had heard the recording before airing it. Even if he had done it live, it could be argued that unless the routine was entirely new, someone at the radio station would have known the content and been in a position to decide that it was unacceptable. Neither of these circumstances exists with a live awards show. This leads us to the question of "channeling of certain kinds of language to a time when children are less likely to be watching and listening." Again this is more applicable to the Pacifica case than it is to a live event like an awards show or a sporting event. The network can't say "We want this awards show to be held at 10 p.m. Pacific in the event that someone might say the 'F-word'." They can opt not to show it live, but would the event organizers accept that or indeed would the audience watch it when they could just as easily find out the winners by watching a news show or going online? Finally there is the declaration that the FCC order "is from an agency with long experience in the area being regulated." That is indeed true, but it is also true that this is scarcely the first time that a situation like this has come up. In fact, there is fifty years of precedent up to the point of the FCC ruling and in all that time inadvertent obscenities have essentially been treated as accidental events. What the FCC did in their "declaratory, not punitive" order was to arbitrarily overturn the decisions (or no-decisions) of previous commissions.

Next, let's turn to the PTC's reaction to the motion filed by lawyers for ABC to overturn the FCC fine for the episode of NYPD Blue from February 2003. You will recall that this was a scene that it apparently took the FCC five years to decide was "indecent" despite the fact that the show had been showing bare buttocks – male and female – for most of the previous decade without being fined. The PTC states in their commentary on the ABC lawyers' filing that, "After reading their arguments challenging the FCC's indecency fine against NYPD Blue, we believe ABC's attorneys should win an Emmy for 'Best Comedy Writing.' Their primetime comedy writers haven't written anything nearly as funny in years." It's a catchy line, and the bit about the comedy writers is a double edged sword is hilarious given that the ABC comedy writers (setting aside the fallacy of the network having comedy writers) are the people that gave us Cavemen, Carpoolers and According To Jim. But what the PTC thinks is "hilarious" is legitimate argument. Here's some of what the PTC says:

They argue that they are not opposed to indecency rules, yet they don't want the rules to be enforced. That's akin to saying that they're in favor of the speed limit but against any enforcement when people drive too fast.

They show a fully-naked woman from behind; the camera ogling her up and down with saucy music playing in the background. And in denying that a naked woman's buttocks has either a sexual or excretory function, they say it is 'just a muscle.' Why not just show her bicep, then?

ABC has also made the preposterous assertion that no viewers complained to the FCC about the nudity in NYPD Blue when the reality is that thousands of Americans from all over the country exercised their First Amendment rights to contact their government about the misuse of the airwaves that they own. Many of those concerned citizens used the PTC website to file those complaints with the FCC. The law is clear: people have the right through the FCC to complain about the indecent material airing in their communities regardless of how they are informed about the material. For ABC to declare otherwise is like saying that only those who fight in Iraq or Afghanistan can log a formal opinion about the war.

Of course none of that was what the ABC lawyers said according to Broadcast & Cable. On the first point they actually state that, "the current commission's indecency standard as applied was an unjustified break with precedent, arbitrary and capricious, and just plain wrong. 'Indeed, it is the Commission that has broken faith with Pacifica by disregarding the narrowness of Pacifica's holding and rejecting the restrained enforcement policy Pacifica demanded.'" The PTC's statement that the network, "in denying that a naked woman's buttocks has either a sexual or excretory function, they say it is 'just a muscle.' Why not just show her bicep, then," is far more absurd than what the ABC lawyers actually said. The lawyers, "argued that backsides do not meet the FCC's criteria for indecency because they are not 'sexual or excretory organs.' Rather, they are part of the muscular system." Which is entirely accurate of course; the buttocks themselves are neither sexual nor excretory, they are however an erogenous zone. And indeed the ABC lawyers apparently offered examples – including images of the "Coppertone Girl" – which are indicative (according to the lawyers) that the American public is not offended by the depiction of bare buttocks. The whole concept of "why not just show her bicep" is so absurd as to not being worthy even of the PTC. In the context of the scene – a woman interrupted in the process of her normal day because she isn't used to living with someone with a child – "just" showing her bicep is hardly enough. (As far as the whole "saucy music" and the camera "ogling her up and down" this is clearly the PTC's imagination running wild. The music in particular is a clear continuation of the music in the street scene that precedes the bathroom scene.)

The final part of the PTC's argument also has me shaking my head. The Broadcast & Cable article on the ABC filing doesn't mention that the ABC lawyers made this argument. It is stated in an article on the FMBQ website it is stated that the FOX and NBC filings in support of ABC claimed that, "no actual viewers complained about the episode. 'All of the complaints the FCC received in this case were from complaints drafted by the American Family Association,' which is an activist group, the brief said. Therefore, in the absence of complaints from real viewers, the FCC should not act." The implication is of course that the complaints to the FCC were made not by people who actually watched the episode and were offended by it but rather by those who were told by an organization – whether it was the PTC or the American Family Association – that they should be offended by it even if they didn't see the show except perhaps as a clip on the PTC website. The PTC claims that, "the law is clear: people have the right through the FCC to complain about the indecent material airing in their communities regardless of how they are informed about the material." The thing is though that this is far from being clear. In fact complaints have been rejected, and fines have not been levied against individual stations, in the past because it was clear to the FCC that the complainants didn't actually see the show. The PTC's comparison between the supposed right of those who weren't offended by a show that they didn't see to lodge a formal complaint to a government agency, and the ability to comment about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan despite not having been there is one of the most absurd and borderline disgusting thing in this whole statement.

Well maybe it isn't the most absurd. That would probably go to this little gem: "ABC must believe that corporate namesake, Walt Disney himself, would agree that airing the 'F-word' and showing naked women on television are not indecent. Would the same man who brought the world Mickey Mouse really think that? Surely he would agree with the unanimous, bipartisan FCC ruling that the NYPD Blue episode was indecent." Where does this come from? The PTC is not only putting thoughts into the head of a man who has been dead for 40 years but seems clearly unaware that Walt Disney wanted to include topless women – well topless female centaurs – in Fantasia and was only deterred from doing so by the Motion Picture Production Code. I don't know what Walt Disney would have thought about this scene and neither does the PTC.

We now turn to the PTC patting itself on the back. The PTC seems to be of the opinion that they and they alone are responsible for the cancellation of the FX series Dirt. Why? Well according to the article PTC Efforts Cleaned Up TV's "Dirt" the PTC managed to persuade fifty advertisers to make "the responsible decision to remove their financial support for the offensive content of Dirt via their advertising dollars." To which I say, "prove it." And they can't.

According to PTC president Tim Winter, "If advertising dollars won't support a particular television show, then the network must either edit the show in a way that appeases the advertisers, or else the network must cancel the program entirely. We heard from a number of companies who decided to stop sponsoring the show after being contacted by us. We believe that our efforts clearly had an effect on Dirt being cancelled." So by their own president's statement, it was "a number of companies" rather than fifty. And instead of asserting outright – as the title of the press release does – that the PTC's efforts were responsible for getting the show cancelled, Winter is saying that "our efforts clearly had an effect on 'Dirt' being cancelled." And even that they can't prove. What I can argue is that the show was cancelled for the reason most shows are cancelled – the audience went away. The first season of the show debuted with an audience of 3.7 million and averaged 1.9 million for the entire season. According to the Wikipedia entry for the show, the second – and as it turned out the last – season debuted with an audience of 1.7 million in "a competitive timeslot, Sundays at 10 P.M." but the audience slipped to 1.06 million by the finale of the strike shortened seven episode second season. Is it not possible that this, rather than the lobbying by the PTC, is the more likely reason for advertisers to abandon Dirt rather than the pleas/demands/threats of the PTC?

I don't think I'll look too heavily at this week's Worst of the Week because quite frankly even for the PTC it was a weak choice. The show as a one-time only airing of a Canadian show called MVP which will be airing on SoapNet. The show, which ran for eleven episodes on the CBC before being cancelled for being too expensive and not drawing a large audience even by CBC standards, was a Canadianized version of the British hit Footballers Wives. I won't go through what the PTC says about the show because it's the usual litany of supposed horrors that are supposed to be corrupting the children even though the show was seen in the third hour of primetime – yet another example of the PTC treating all of us as though we were children. But the thing that bothers me is that the PTC is that the PTC gets up in arms about this show because of drug use and sexuality but never ever mentions "daytime dramas" and the sort of things that happen in those shows (drug use, sexuality, even worse) which are far more accessible to child and teenaged viewers than this show was. But of course commenting on daytime dramas (and the syndicated court shows that occupy the time slots that years ago were given over to syndicated reruns and shows for kids) doesn't spark the sort of outrage that commenting on prime time shows does.

Let's turn instead to the show that the PTC has decided was "Misrated". This time around the show is the latest American Film Institute's latest Top Ten List, America's 10 Great Films in 10 Classic Genres. Now I missed this AFI list – a rarity for me I admit but somehow I wasn't aware that it was on. The show was rated TV-PG LV, meaning Parental Guidance, with Language and Violence descriptors. According to the PTC "...although kids also love movies, the special chose to highlight many clips featuring content unsuitable for children. With clips from movies in the categories of animation, fantasy, science fiction, sports, westerns, gangster films, mysteries, epics, courtroom dramas, and romantic comedies, this show had the potential to be as clean or as raunchy as its producers chose. Unfortunately, all too often they chose "raunchy"…and parents were not even warned of the inappropriate content, since the show was rated only TV-PG LV." The PTC points out that there are violent images from "R" rated movies being shown at 7 p.m. Central Time! Among the movies listed were Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Blade Runner, and A Clockwork Orange, with clips from Unforgiven, Wild Bunch, Raging Bull, Scarface, Pulp Fiction, The Godfather Part II, Goodfellas, The Godfather Part I, The Usual Suspects, and Blue Velvet being shown at 8 p.m. Central. According to the PTC, "Clips showed people being shot at, beaten savagely, and murdered. Graphic depictions of blood and wounds were shown. The violence in these clips earned the movies an R-rating in theaters – but apparently CBS thinks such violence is only deserving of a PG rating." And that's not all. They also showed "a clip from When Harry Met Sally shows Sally faking an orgasm in the middle of a restaurant. She yells, moans, and pounds on the table during her false sexual interlude." And in a clip from Bull Durham, "the lead character mentions his belief in 'soft-core pornography.'" Oh the horror! The PTC's conclusion of course is that "Due to the number and graphic nature of the violent clips shown, and the sexual content of other clips, this show should have been rated TV-14 LVS."

Well not so fast. Even assuming that the Motion Picture Association of America (the MPAA) didn't give some of these movies and "R" rating because they contained nude scenes – even a flash of female nudity is often enough to get an "R" rating – the fact is that the clips used in these AFI retrospectives are incredibly brief, a fact that the clip provided by the PTC shows. In particular they cite the clip from A Clockwork Orange: "In a clip from A Clockwork Orange, a gang brutally beats an older man with a cane, kicking and punching him, all while giggling with evil delight." That scene, as portrayed in the clip, takes only slightly longer to run than it takes to read the PTC description. To my mind the clips shown seem to have been brief enough, and the warning that there were Language and Violence concerns (and remember that even the PTC couldn't list scenes where the characters were engaged in the sort of thing that would either get an R rating for a movie) and recommended that Parents (real parents not the "national parents" that the PTC wants to be) should offer guidance to the children that they know better than some umbrella organization. But apparently though, the PTC believes that the clips shown, and hey, maybe even the entire list, should have been crafted to be suitable for children; because after all, "kids also love movies."

Finally let's turn to the PTC's TV Trends piece this week, titled, "Summer Brings Little Fun to Prime Time". It's a diatribe against the bad language, sex and violence that the networks are foisting on the poor innocent TV audience. It is in part a case of "round up the usual suspects." Fox subjected children to Moment of Truth (where a woman "was asked such personally invasive questions as whether she would act in a pornographic movie and whether she has shared details of her current sex life with a former boyfriend") which was followed by Hell's Kitchen which "unleashed a blizzard of f-bombs on impressionable youngsters in the audience." The writer chose to illustrate his point by printing a Ramsayan diatribe which stemmed from him burning his hand on a pot, complete with "(bleeped f***)!" inserted at the appropriate points, and added, "Clearly, Ramsay's culinary brilliance does not extend to his vocabulary; but how many children, hearing this (even in its bleeped form) will gain the impression that such vulgar language is the norm?" The writer then briefly turns his attention to CBS, with an obligatory mention of "its sex-and-drug series Swingtown" (which airs in the third hour of prime time of course) and the previously mentioned AFI special. However, the article's real wrath is directed at NBC.

According to the article, "it was NBC which failed children and families the most in past weeks. NBC should be the best network for families, with its heavy slate of original talent-show programming; but while the programs' premises are excellent, what actually airs contains material some parents would find objectionable." The definition of objectionable seems pretty low as far as I'm concerned. First there are two incidents from Nashville Star. In the first, according to the PTC, one of the judges supposedly implies an improper relationship between a contestant and one of the other judges (singer Jewel) saying, "I don't know if you mentored this kid or you made out with him for thirty minutes." In the second incident, "judge Jeffrey Steele mocked contestant Tommy's choice of song with the repeated words, 'You are such a kiss-ass. I gotta say it again, you are such a kiss-ass…He's kissing your ass.'" Turning to the show Celebrity Circus they mention "inappropriate" language ("when did it become mandatory for every program in prime time to use words like 'damn,' 'hell' and 'ass,' anyway?") but direct their real attention to one of the acts in the show in which Christopher Knight (Peter from the Brady Bunch and more recently My Fair Brady which details his marriage to Adrianne Curry) sets himself on fire. According to the PTC he is goaded by a clown to do this. They detail what the clown tells Knight ("I thought what we'd do, we take a stick of dynamite, light it, hand it to you, you stick it down your pants and blow your crotch out.") and then comments, "While fire-eating clowns are a traditional part of a circus, explosives down the pants are a new wrinkle…and one most parents probably wouldn't appreciate their children seeing." Finally they turn to "the most egregious error on the part of NBC" at least according to the PTC. That would be the debut episode of the third season of America's Got Talent. They object – but not overly strenuously to "a veritable burlesque striptease by the 'Slippery Kittens,'" but their real wrath is directed at Derek Barry, a Britney Spears impersonator, and a comment David Hasselhoff made in connection with his act: "I'm questioning my sexuality here. You're hot! But you're the wrong sex." Noting that the episode was rated TV-14 L, the writer adds this comment: "What a sad commentary it is that NBC is incapable of producing even talent shows and circus programs that are suitable for children to watch."

I am truly shocked and amazed at all this. The comments on the Fox shows – "Fox subjected children to Moment of Truth" and "unleashed a blizzard of f-bombs on impressionable youngsters in the audience" – almost creates the image of children being tied to chairs by their parents and forced to watch these evil programs. I've already dealt with the issue of the AFI show, which leaves us with the NBC shows. And here the writer of this article is really reaching to find something to object to. To them of course, any use of the word "ass" is evil even though most of the rest of us find it relatively innocuous. The comments on the Celebrity Circus and the "stick of dynamite" is absurd (and the writer clearly hasn't attended a real circus in some time if ever) but even worse is the complaint about Hasselhoff's statement about Derek Barry (who incidentally did look hot – far hotter than the real Britney Spears. While I wouldn't call the statement entirely innocuous, I can't help but take it in the spirit in which it was meant, namely as an expression of amazement and even praise for Barry's appearance in character, and I for one am unsure what this writer objects to. Or maybe I do know.

When I type I occasionally (well more than occasionally) make typos. One of those typos suddenly put the PTC into perspective for me. I left the "e" off of "prime." It suddenly became clear: the PTC wants to turn "Prime Time" into "Prim Time." And while I don't think they can do it, they do seem to have the deck stacked in their favour. They are organized and vocal, and the structure of the FCC rewards the organized and vocal. They are interested in protests and complaints and there is no structure in place for those who support a show like NYPD Blue to let them know about it. The PTC makes noise. They complain about shows and organize boycotts of those that advertise on those shows. In doing so they try to create a fear among advertisers so that they shows that are edgy and controversial don't get support. In that way television is moved away from the groundbreaking and towards the safe and formulaic, towards the sort of shows that the PTC wants; towards "Prim Time."