Monday, June 25, 2012

Three things that didn't change last week about nudity on TV

In 2002 at the Billboard Music Awards, in response to comments that she was on her way out, Cher's response to her critics was clear: "f*** em". In 2003 at the same awards show Nicole Richie described getting "cow s*** out of a Prada purse" as "not so f***ing simple." And also in 2003 ABC showed an episode of NYPD Blue with 5 seconds of naked butt and 7 of sideboob. And in 2012 the US Supreme Court finally handed down a ruling saying that because Fox and ABC didn't have advance warning that fleeting instances of cursing or nudity would put them at risk of fines, the FCC couldn't fine them.

There are people out there saying this judgment means short bursts of cursing and nudity are fair game for US TV networks and that creators should be making more edgy content. There are other people saying nothing has changed. They can't both be right. If you're preparing content containing this type of content, keep 3 things in mind.

1. This judgment was about advance notice of a government rule, NOT about whether nudity or cursing are acceptable for broadcast TV. It doesn't change any rules. The court was really clear about saying it wasn't looking at the First Amendment aspects of whether or not the FCC is trying to restrict free speech, just at whether or not Fox and ABC had enough warning of what the rules were before the shows aired.

2. Even if the government's rules have changed, Standards and Practices at the networks are very unlikely to change their rules tomorrow based on this judgment. Don't think you'll be making changes to your scripts, at least not for broadcast (the rules have always been different for cable).

3. And the government's rules haven't changed. In 2004, after these incidents, the FCC passed a rule saying that it was okay to fine NBC because Bono said that winning a Golden Globe was "really, really f***ing brilliant." The Supreme Court specifically held that it wasn't going to say anything about whether that's going too far.

And one takeaway: welcome to the new world, going to be the same as the old world. I'd not rush into making changes yet.

Judgment: FCC v. Fox Television Stations:

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