Kyle's Archive

In the late 80s Kyle was sure that Square One was the greatest show on TV, now he knows that it's 30 Rock. He makes movies. He is also the Webmaster.

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Nobody is Getting Fined or Fired: A Brief History of Obscenity and Indecency

Jesse has already covered the news that Jenny Slate said “fucking” on SNL this weekend. As soon as the sketch started, Maggie and I got scared. An f-bomb seemed inevitable. And it certainly was. But don’t feel bad for anyone on this one. Nobody is getting fined or fired over this. Today I’m going to give everyone an education in the nature of dirty stuff on television in recent years.

For television networks, the first arbiter of decency is not the government. It is the advertisers who pay them to put their silly little shows on the air. If you can get a sponsor to pay for your filthy smut, you can do almost anything you want. Most advertisers, however, are a skittish bunch, and want to avoid controversy. That simple fact goes a long way towards explaining why television has a history of being extremely tame. But as advertisers have become less concerned with the naughty content in the broadcasts they sponsor, the government has stepped in more often.

As you may be aware, there is a rather popular amendment to our constitution that says “Congress shall make no law …  abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press” etc. Unfortunately, over the years the Supreme Court has found exceptions to that clear and rather plainly worded bit of lawmaking. One of these exceptions grants the FCC the power to regulate over-the-air broadcast networks to prevent them from broadcasting indecent material between the hours of 6am and 10pm; what I refer to as the “Won’t Somebody Think of the Children Zone.” In a wonderful bit of irony, this policy was first solidified in 1978 after someone broadcast George Carlin’s “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television” on the radio. The Supreme Court upheld the FCC’s right to protect children by putting indecent content on late at night, which seems to indicate that someone could actually perform Carlin’s monologue on SNL if the sponsors were willing.

Since the Jenny Slate incident occurred well outside of the Zone, the FCC has no authority to fine anyone for broadcasting the potentially indecent material. According to the FCC “indecent material contains sexual or excretory material that does not rise to the level of obscenity. Now, saying “I fucking respect you for that” clearly does not rise to the level of obscenity (I’ll cover obscenity in a moment) but what is not immediately clear is whether using “fucking” as an intensifier actually refers to sexual material. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court offered distinctly mixed signals on this issue. In 2003, Bono (who was coincidentally featured on this weekend’s SNL) said winning a Golden Globe was “really, really fucking brilliant” during a live broadcast during the Won’t Somebody Think of the Children Zone and television stations were assessed some hefty fines for letting that through (on the East Coast of course. The West Coast never gets to hear the dirty words). The case made its way to the Supreme Court and they punted on the big issue of whether fleeting expletives of that type could be considered protected by the First Amendment. But they did rule in favor of the FCC in this particular case, which puts a bit of a cramp on live broadcasts in the Zone. Beeping out words on a seven-second broadcast delay is not as easy as people think.

Click to continue reading “Nobody is Getting Fined or Fired: A Brief History of Obscenity and Indecency”

2 comments September 28th, 2009

My Cable TV Debut

Current TV commissioned a video about my Truth @ 15 Frames Per Second web series and I am happy to announce that it will premiere tomorrow on Tuesday December 16, 2008 at 11pm on the Brand Spanking New Show. I know you’ve never heard of it. It’s a cable channel Al Gore co-founded in order to democratize television or something. I’ve watched it a bit, and they have some really great stuff. It’s like an all-year short documentary film festival. If you have cable or sattelite TV you probably get it. My beloved new provider DirecTV has it on 366. Time Warner Cable is 103 in NYC and on various other channels in other cities. Dish is 196. Comcast is 107 in most cities. AT&T U-Verse is 189. Visit their website if you can’t find it on your local provider.

If you prefer to watch television on the Internet, you can watch the video here instead.

If you leave lots of comments on Current’s site it will get shown on TV more often, so please comment away.

3 comments December 15th, 2008

A 30 Rock Joke I Didn’t Get

Ok, I admit it. I didn’t get the joke on 30 Rock last night when Liz wrote down the “rude” nickname they used to have for Jennifer Aniston. Jack read back something like “Crazy Party” but I assume she actually wrote something else. I’m throwing myself at the mercy of our readers. Anyone understand this one?

8 comments November 14th, 2008

I Think I’ve Heard of TRL

Ok, so while I may consume television and movies voraciously, I didn’t grow up with cable. And if I happened to be at a friend’s house who had MTV, we were much more likely to watch Beavis & Butthead, which did show music videos, but it showed about as much of the videos as TRL did, and I don’t think there was a lot of content overlap. If I remember correctly, Beavis & Butthead tended to watch videos that either “sucked” or were obscure metal bands.

So I have limited exposure to music videos. I first saw this video for “Once in a Lifetime” on the DVD that came with the fancy Talking Heads box set, and I was shocked that the people who brought you The Hills let this on the air, but apparently it was a well-played video.

Letting a bunch of art school graduates play with video effects on TV has never worked so well.

Click to continue reading “I Think I’ve Heard of TRL”

3 comments November 12th, 2008

My New Show

Sure, this isn’t about “real” TV, but why have a blog if you can’t promote your stuff? I had a web-based video series called “Truth @ 15 Frames Per Second” way back in 2006. They were crazy times. YouTube still put everything 4 frames out of sync, and nobody had even heard—let alone forgotten—the name Jessica Rose yet. Some time soon I’ll have a video airing on Current TV (it’s a channel!) about the series and people’s reactions to it. Check your local listings.

Well now everybody has a web series and I’m back with another one. It’s called “Time Travellin'” and it’s about the wacky time travelling adventures of the same two people who are in all my movies. Here’s the first episode. Please tell all your friends. Future episodes will be at my new website Canny Valleys.

November 7th, 2008

Apple Becomes John McCain

So this evening whilst fast-forwarding through a series of commercials on my way back to House and some more girl-on-Thirteen action, I noticed a new Mac ad. I enjoy watching those delightfully charming personfications—especially John Hodgman—so I stopped and watched it. You should too.

Really Apple? You’re going to make fun of Microsoft for spending too much on advertising… in an advertisement? Senator McCain, do you now understand why negative campaigning is so hurtful? It infects the tone of conversations in the rest of the country. Is that the best reason they can come up with for using a Mac? Microsoft is spending too much money on ads? Are they palling around with terrorists and scheming to raise taxes on small businesses too? I was a strict Windows user for a very long time, but a few weeks ago I finally set my bisexual computer (see how I tied it back to House?) to boot as a Mac by default because everything important that I do for work can best be done in the Mac OS. I only use Windows for games now. That’s a really good argument for Mac. That’s the sort of change America needs. Remember when Apple was the cool, maverick OS? Now they’re talking all big like they know how the other guys should be spending their money. All this Vista bashing is just getting petty, and a little desperate.

October 21st, 2008

Project Runway Bryant Park Show — SPOILERS!

So I just spent the past week in a room at the historic Algonquin Hotel, 2 blocks from Bryant Park, editing Fashion Week videos for (your place for Shows, Stars, and Style) twelve hours a day. The videos were hosted by the adorable Rebecca Budig from All My Children. I had a surprisingly good time, and saw a lot of fashion. The most exciting thing, of course, was the Project Runway show yesterday. If you don’t want to know anything about the final show, stop reading now.

First of all, Heidi announced the big news that Jennifer Lopez cancelled yesterday because of a “foot injury.” Filling in at the last minute was Tim Gunn himself. I think this is a great move. I’d much rather hear what he has to say about the clothes than Jennifer Lopez.

Then on to the clothes:

Of course there are still six people on the show at this point, so they sent 3 dummy collections out. My guess is Joe, Kenley, and Suede have been eliminated.

As everyone in the video says, Leanne was the clear winner. At first I was a little disappointed by the lack of variation in the color, but I think for such a limited number of clothes it makes sense to try to make a unified collection. And nobody came anywhere close to the detailed and accomplished construction she had. The clothes were better than several of the collections I saw this week.

September 13th, 2008

30 Rock Pilot Update

So, way back in March of 2006, I went to what I thought would be the taping of a portion of a television show starring and written by Tina Fey. It turned out I was playing an audience member of The Girlie Show for the pilot of 30 Rock, and I didn’t really get to see much of the show being filmed. I did see Tracy Morgan say he was here to inspect our chicken nuggets, but none of the other actors were anywhere to be seen. When I saw the pilot on my old TV, I didn’t catch a glimpse of my face in the audience, but once I got an HDTV and the DVD, I was able to find myself in this shot.


But only because I knew were I was sitting. Nobody else could have picked me out of that crowd. The people you can actually see—who are not way up in the balcony—are paid extras.

I thought that was the end of my brush with 30 Rock, but I recently obtained a copy of the unaired pilot which featured Rachel Dratch instead of Jane Krakowski and had another actor in the role of Cerie. It’s not as good as the one that aired, and Jane Krakowski is clearly better for the role than Rachel Dratch. But what it does have is more me!

I call this one Guy Sitting Down

“Oh my God! He said ‘Honky Grandma be trippn’ just like he did that time in that movie.”

So what this means to me is that Tina Fey has totally seen me a bunch of times. I’d like to think she fought to keep me in the show along with Rachel Dratch, but the network forced her to edit us out.

June 15th, 2008

Are You Ready?

Battlestar Galactica Last Supper

Get ready kids, tonight everyone’s favorite depressing space opera returns! It’s been a long time since we last checked in with our friends on the Battlestar Galactica. Here’s a quick catch-up:

Everything is harder to deal with than you could possibly imagine.

And yes that is Tricia Helfer playing both Jesus some other character who isn’t really in the original painting. Are there any DaVinci Code-style clues in here? Does the space between some people spell out a C, perhaps indicating who the final Cylon is?

Last Supper

7 comments April 4th, 2008

AJAXey Upgrades

I’ve just upgraded our comment system slightly. You can now read or post comments directly from the home page. If you have an avatar, it won’t show up on the home page. I’m still working on that. You can also edit your own comments up to 15 minutes after posting.

2 comments March 29th, 2008

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