3/11/2005

Media alerts: "Boston Legal" and cable "decency" controversies

"Decency" rules on cable
From Mick Farren on SmirkingChimp.com:
http://www.smirkingchimp.com/article.php?sid=20250&mode=nested&order=0
To yet again paraphrase Capt. Willard in Apocalypse Now, "The bullshit piles up so fast in the media that you need wings to stay above it." Over the last couple of weeks, Robin Williams was censored by ABC on the same Oscar show for which Chris Rock was hired to add some edge but then put on dump-out delay. ABC News ducked reality by running a two-hour Peter Jennings special on UFOs instead of real news, while the Bush White House was caught using Armstrong Williams, the scary-weird Jeff Gannon, and at least four other phony journalists to support its own palace of illusions. The Adelphia cable company planned to run hardcore porn on pay-per-view, but then chickened out, while Clint Eastwood, of all people, was branded a soulless Blue State liberal, and a massive spoiler was handed to anyone who had yet to see Million Dollar Baby.
Meanwhile, over on Capitol Hill, Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) started raising a well-publicized ruckus about how FCC decency enforcement should be extended to include cable and satellite programming.
As it stands, the broadcast indecency legislation that has already passed the House and is currently making its way through the Senate is simultaneously obscene and ludicrous. Once it's signed into law by George Bush, the bottom line will be that, if you or I go on local radio and repeat the Willard line quoted above, we can be fined a half-million bucks and our property seized without ever once going in front of a judge. If the same FCC censorship power is extended to cable, we can kiss goodbye to Bill Maher, Larry Sanders, The Sopranos, Deadwood, Queer as Folk, South Park, The L Word, and whatever comes next for the Sex and the City demographic. Worse, we won't be able to see an uncut, uncensored copy of Raging Bull, Schindler's List, or the aforementioned Apocalypse Now except on DVD, even though we're paying through the nose for subscription TV. Stevens and Barton don't even feel the need to fabricate any clear and present cable danger from which we need to be protected...Time Warner will, I hope, buy off these jackasses, so we don't have to junk HBO as meaningless. But the combination of the bigoted control freaks and sleazy power hustlers is dangerous, volatile, and needs to be constantly watched.

ABC censors "Boston Legal"
From SmirkingChimp.com:
http://www.smirkingchimp.com/article.php?sid=20251&mode=nested&order=0
The next episode of Boston Legal, is to be broadcast Sunday March 13 on the Disney-owned ABC network. AlterNet has acquired both the original and the revised script for this episode from a source who prefers to remain anonymous. The original penned by Kelley focused in large measure on Fox News and its loofah-loving star Bill O'Reilly. The script also featured substantial excerpts from the independent film Outfoxed, which documents how the allegedly "fair and balanced" cable channel acts as a propaganda arm for the Republican Party and other conservative interest groups. But the final script – the one that was actually shot for the show that will appear on Sunday – has been thoroughly scrubbed on orders from top ABC network executives, and all mention of Fox News and O’Reilly has been sent down the Memory Hole.
David Kelley won’t say why the changes were made – and no one at his production company, his producing partner 20th Century Fox, ABC or even Fox News is talking. But a comparison of the original script and the censored script speaks for itself. In the original, Chi McBride (principal of the high school featured in Kelley’s previous hit Boston Public) installs a "Fox Blocker" on every television set in his school, on the entirely reasonable grounds that what appears on Fox News is not news but in fact "hate speech." One of his students, Stuart Milch, believes McBride’s decision to be censorship, and takes his case to the attorneys of Boston Legal.
Here’s a taste of what millions of viewers will now miss next Sunday:
Stuart: "It’s called a Fox Blocker. Sold off the internet. You attach it to the coaxial cable on your television and it basically blocks out all Fox News transmissions… My high school principal attached these liberal, left-wing devices to all the televisions in the building. Meanwhile, the kids are free to watch CBS, CNN, NBC, even ABC, But not Fox. It’s censorship."
It’s called censorship, all right – just not on Boston Legal anymore. Here’s what the final, scrubbed-and-censored script says instead:
Stuart: "It’s called a news blocker. Sold off the internet. You attach it to the coaxial cable on your television and it basically blocks out news transmission…. My high school principal attached these devices to all the televisions in the building. The problem is… turns out it only blocks out one network, the most fair and balanced one. All the others, kids can watch."
Here’s another example, this time of an interchange between two Boston Legal characters – attorney Chelina Hall and Catherine Piper, secretary to attorney Alan Shore (played by Boston Legal star, James Spader.) Again, original script first:
Chelina: If you had to watch the news, Mrs. Piper, which network would you go to?
Catherine (simply): Fox, of course.
Chelina: Can you tell us why?
Catherine: Well. For starters, we’re winning the war on Fox. The economy’s better there. And Brit Hume. Sometimes I close my eyes and…go to him.
And now, the censored version:
Chelina: If you had to watch the news, Mrs. Piper, which network would you go to?
Catherine (simply): I don’t know. I’d probably seek out the station where we’re most likely to be winning the war. Where I can find a better economy. Maybe some weapons of mass destruction.
And so it continues, page after expurgated page. No Fox. No Bill O’Reilly. No Brit Hume. … And no free speech?
No way to know – because no one will speak, not even the articulate, prolific and powerful Mr. Kelley.
Speaking of free speech, there’s another, related issue to consider as well – the unexplained fact that Robert Greenwald, creator of the Outfoxed documentary (which curiously is still excerpted and mentioned by name in Sunday’s episode) was In keeping with the overall vow of silence accompanying the Boston Legal "free speech" episode, neither Joel Resnicow nor indeed anyone at ABC’s Broadcast Standards and Practices Department was willing to comment. When pressed for an explanation of why the ad was refused, ABC’s media relations rep Susan Sewell said only "No comment." The non-answer answer was the same even when she was asked for an explanation – or indeed any articulation whatsoever – of ABC’s "Broadcast Standards and Practices." And Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes – usually good for at least a quip, if not an actual quote – also declined comment.
While you’re at it, why not ask David E. Kelley what pressure was brought to bear on him to censor an episode of his series – one supposedly devoted to the issue of free speech. The telephone number for David E. Kelley Productions is 650.853.9100.
In the interest of free speech, maybe he’ll even talk to you.

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