Re: Network Nudity

From: David P. Hayes
Newsgroups: rec.arts.movies.past-films, rec.arts.movies.current-films, alt.movies.independent
Date: Wednesday, January 14, 1998 2:41 PM

>Joshua Eckhardt <> wrote:
>>The FCC (Federal Communications Commission), the ones who regulate US
>>network television, further compound the matter by maintaining the
>>following policy:
>> 1): Network TV cannot display patently obscene material
>> 2): The accepted standard for obscenity is *not* defined
>>The FCC *will* come down on you like a ton of bricks (mult-million
>>dollar fines, licensce revocation, etc.) for violating its rules, and…

There have been instances of movies being shown on network television with nudity included. Recently, although I didn't see the broadcast, NBC ran "Schindler's List" at its full length with only one word blipped out. This film has much non-sexual nudity in its gas-showers segments. Nonetheless, this was transmitted by the network over its 200+ affiliates.

Along the same lines, NBC in the late 1970s broadcast the miniseries "Holocaust," which like "Schindler's List" had disrobed persons staidly walking into their victimizations. The NBC network commissioned the program, and had the right to shape, to specify its contents prior to filming, and to exercise contractual privileges.

Such matter-of-fact, sexually-devoid, almost journalistic nudity might have been explained away at the network as "National Geographic nudity," a phrase conjured to "sanctify" nudity, to justify it on educational grounds.

There used to be complaints printed occasionally in newspaper television feedback columns that South Seas women and African native women were demeaned because females breasts could be shown on television so long as they weren't those of a white woman. (The two ethnic groups named were fixtures of the "National Geographic" documentaries shown on PBS, the network that had steered clear of female nudity after the furor over its 1972 broadcast play "Steambath.")

Television station managers may have taken that message in the direction not intended by the critics, and opted to believe that it would be okay for present white nudity too, on the grounds, perhaps, that what was being shown was merely how some people live.

KTLA, then an independent station broadcasting on channel 5 in Los Angeles, started the new trend when in 1984 or 1985 they broadcast "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" in its R-rated entirety. They began the 7:30pm-10pm time slot with director Milos Forman stating that it had been believed that the film was too controversial to allow for a faithful television broadcast (NBC's earlier broadcast had cut the film to fit two hours with commercials, that length being shorter than an uninterrupted showing of the complete film), but that KTLA believed that the culture had changed such that a complete broadcast would be tolerated and appreciated. There followed the expected disclaimer followed and it was repeated after each commercial break. Nonetheless, the complete broadcast meant that KTLA viewers saw nudity in the hooker sequence at about 9:45pm; the audience also heard Jack Nicholson talk about "red beaver" in relation to statutory rape, at 7:45pm.

KCOP, another then-independent station in Los Angeles (channel 13), followed shortly with an uncut broadcast of another Oscar winner for Best Picture, "All That Jazz." The protagonist's nude bed-mate walked across the screen at 8:30pm on that broadcast.

The doors were then swung open to nudity:

* KCOP left in the nude-exercise-video segment in a weekday noontime broadcast of "THX-1138." This, like the concentration camp nudity, was non-sexual and in the film connoted the jaded mindset of a future, inured society, yet there were conspicuous splice marks immediately before and after the nudity, indicating that the nudity had been spliced out for previous broadcasts and then re-inserted.

* The 1983 "Breathless" was shown on KCOP with the lengthy scene where Gere's girlfriend (Valerie Kapriski, the main justification for watching the film) is topless throughout their conversation. The nude lovemaking during the montage to Elvis Presley's "Suspicious Minds" was shown, and viewers saw Gere's limp unit very briefly if their TV sets were adjusted to display the very bottom of the frame, and also saw an opaque blur of Gere's pubic region through a shower door. Although ten minutes of the film had to be cut to fit the two-hour time slot (6-8pm), KCOP made the cuts for drama rather than content. A few years later, Los Angeles independent channel 9 would run the film in the late evening in a 1:50-length slot, indicating how much of the film they thought they had to cut to make the film suitable according to more conventional broadcast standards.

* KCOP ran the 129-minute "Looking For Mr. Goodbar" in a 2-hr. slot, but what they cut was what would be cut to make the film as good as possible at that length, not what was lascivious. All of the tantalizing shots other than the cut-in to the blue movie, were included.

* KTLA scheduled "9 1/2 weeks." For this film, the television distributor prepared a special broadcast edition which would be a little more risqué than what viewers normally see on television--it would require a disclaimer-- but which was mostly expurgated. KTLA looked at the edited version and decided that the viewers of Los Angeles were willing to see a racier cut of the film. (KTLA General Manager Steve Bell told the "Los Angeles Times" that MGM/UA's cut was "unintelligible." Ray Cipperly, the station's supervisor of program editing, called it "sterile to the point that there was not much of interest left.") The station requested and received a complete print of the film (the R-rated cut, not the unrated version released to video and considered too raunchy even for mainstream theaters), which they then edited, sometimes cutting in scenes from the television distributor's edit. (Example from the "Times" story: "A key scene involving Mickey Rourke blindfolding Kim Basinger, and her response, was so severely edited that their ensuing relationship made no sense. So KTLA execs restored much of the scene, along with other material.") The "Los Angeles Times" reported it was for naught, for the ratings weren't good. The "Times" add: "the original, 'unintelligible' version pulled better numbers in other markets!" ("Los Angeles Times," February 5, 1989)

(One of those other markets may have been San Diego, where a few week earlier, KUSI-TV (Channel 51) ran the film. According to the "Times" of January 30, 1989: "Channel 51 prefers to purchase edited-for-television versions of movies. In some cases, the station will further edit the edited-for-TV version of a movie, particularly if it is scheduled for early in the evening when children are still awake. "Even the edited-for-television versions can be harsh," Channel 51 film director Gloria Brownlee said. The Federal Communications Commission doesn't offer the stations any set guidelines on what words it can or cannot use, or what type of scene is too racy. Most stations rely on viewer reaction to help gauge the boundaries of taste.")

* Brian DePalma's "Carrie" was shown on KCOP soon thereafter. They, too, did their editing from a complete print of the film, but without provisions for re-filming the opening titles, they broadcast the credits as DePalma originally presented them: superimposed over scenes of a high school girls' locker room, where dozens of young shapelies don't drape their towels until their below-the-waist hair patches and their mammary mounds have graced the camera's lens.

These would soon change. KCOP brought back the "Benny Hill" show they had broadcast in the early 1980s, but this time they cut from the British series the raunchy implications of quick, anonymous sex (e.g, a man and a glassy-eyed woman rushing behind a dressing screen and all their clothes quickly piling atop it) previously shown.

A KCOP staffer went to work for a Kansas City station, and the result was reported in the "Los Angeles Times" of February 16, 1988, in a story entitled "Station Gets Lesson in Decency"

The remainder of this post is from that story:

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Kansas City teacher Treva Burk vaguely knew what sweeps ratings periods were, but she had no idea sweeps were a factor in bringing out the kind of TV programming that she abhors the most.

"It was last Memorial Day and my husband was flipping around the dial --he likes to watch Westerns. And he found this movie, on at 8 o'clock at night, with female nudity from the waist up and a simulated oral sex scene to the point where it left no doubt what was going on," said Mrs. Burk.

The movie, aired by Kansas City's KZKC-TV Channel 62, was called "My Tutor," a 1983 teen sex fantasy about a student whose French teacher teaches him sexual intimacy as well as verb conjugation. The following evening, the Burks got to see "Private Lessons," another R-rated fantasy aimed at teens about another older woman bedding down a teen-age boy.

That's when they decided to turn KZKC in to the Federal Communications Commission. They sent videotapes of both movies to the FCC Complaints Division.

Last month, Mrs. Burk got a call from the FCC: Thanks to her complaint, the FCC found portions of "Private Lessons" to be allegedly indecent and KZKC became the first TV station in more than a decade that the FCC had formally charged with broadcast indecency. The station's owner, Chattanooga-based Media Central Inc., was given 30 days to reply. Last week, Media Central denied the charges, setting the stage for a showdown over KZKC's license (see accompanying story).

"We always stacked the sweeps," former KZKC general manager Steven Friedheim told The Times.

Scheduling the most titillating and violent films during November, February and May is standard practice among independent television stations from Miami to Los Angeles, according to Friedheim.

Sweeps "stacking" was also standard practice for all eight of the stations owned by Media Central Inc., including KZKC which billed itself as Kansas City's "Movie Station." [KCOP billed itself at the times as "L.A.'s Movie Station"--DH] And it was, in part, what got the station in trouble with Mrs. Burk and the FCC.

Though they didn't bother to tape any more of KZKC's films after "My Tutor" (still being scrutinized by the FCC, according to Mrs. Burk) and "Private Lessons," the Burks found similar fare during the week of May 25. It was "School's Out Week" on the station, according to Friedheim, and that meant a new teen exploitation movie every night. "Massacre at Central High" and "Student Bodies" were aired from 8 to 11 p.m. along with "Private Lessons."

"It showed her buttocks and the sheets moving around and sound effects," Mrs. Burk said. "One of the main things the movie was trying to validate was that it's all right for an adult to have sex with a teen-ager. It was all aimed at teen-age audiences."

[Further down in the story:]

In Los Angeles, KTTV-TV Channel 11 aired a package of teen movies last May similar to KZKC's "School's Out" film series. "Private Lessons" was among the movies shown during "Mother Never Told Me" week.

Next week, Channel 11 will reprise "Private Lessons," the 1981 fantasy/ comedy about a 15-year-old boy who learns about sex from his French maid, "Emmanuelle" star Sylvia Kristel. This time, the theme week is entitled "Plain Brown Wrapper" week, according to Peter Martin of the KTTV creative services department.

Unlike KZKC, which apparently used a young film editor unfamiliar with Media Central's no-frontal-nudity standards in editing the theatrical version of "Private Lessons," KTTV will excise such scenes, said Martin. KTTV is equally careful about promoting its teen exploitation theme weeks during shows directed to children, such as cartoons, he said.

"We may have done so in the past, but we never run promos during kids' shows now," he said. "Also, the promos (for Plain Brown Wrapper Week) are conceptual. We're not using any of the video in them."

Martin said he knew of no viewer complaints as a result of "Mother Never Told Me" week or any other KTTV theme week.

But KZKC got complaints.

Friedheim said Media Central produced its own promotional spots in addition to editing most of the theatrical movies its stations aired. The promotional spots usually contained the most suggestive or violent clips from the movie as an enticement to the viewer. The general policy was to edit for time and not for content, he said, so that the station could air films that were as near to being the original shown in theaters as possible.

Morton Kent, chairman of 7-year-old Media Central, maintains his company has always been "family-oriented" and that the showing of a generally uncut version of "Private Lessons" was a fluke. Since its May airing, "Private Lessons" has not been seen again on KZKC and the programing has been toned down to the point where it has become "rinky-dink," in Friedheim's opinion.

A former sales manager of KCOP-TV Channel 13 in Los Angeles, Friedheim left the Kansas City station after "School's Out" week, along with former program director Debbie Stauber. But neither left because of the "Private Lessons" incident, he said… .

David Hayes

Note: the paragraph on "Carrie" was originally posted missing a few words, which I reported in a correction post made seven hours later:

Re: Network Nudity

From: David P. Hayes
Newsgroups: rec.arts.movies.past-films,rec.arts.movies.current-films,alt.movi es.independent
Date: Wednesday, January 14, 1998 11:51 PM

The full paragraph, as it should have appeared all along, was then included.  The version appearing within the body of this web page reflects the corrections.


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