News

Oral Report: Cable Permeates Supreme Court Debate About Broadcast Decency Restrictions

1/16/2012 12:01 AM Eastern

Last week’s Supreme Court oral argument
regarding indecency was about broadcastcontent
regulations, but cable figured prominently
in the discussion.

That included Justice Elena Kagan’s observations on
basic cable and Justice Samuel Alito’s suggestion that
broadcasting was on the way to ceding its TV territory
to the wired medium and others.

It also extended to broadcast industry lawyers using
the competition from cable to argue for fewer indecency
regulations for their clients.

Here, if it please the reader, are just some of the
cable-centric comments from last week’s argument,
gleaned from Th e Wire’s own fi rst-hand notes — using
a ballpoint pen, rather than a quill (the court actually
gives them out as souvenirs to lawyers) — and a handy
transcript provided by the court.

Justice Kagan: “Do you think that there is a difference
between what a person sees on broadcast
channels and what a person sees on basic cable?
Because basic-cable channels are not restricted by
these [indecency] rules and I am just wondering …
because it has not been apparent to me that there is.”

Justice Alito: “Broadcast TV is living on borrowed
time. It is not going to be long before it goes the way of
vinyl records and eight-track tapes.... I’m sure your clients
[broadcasters] will continue to make billions of dollars
on their programs which are transmitted by cable
and by satellite and by [the] Internet.”

Fox lawyer Carter Phillips on the suggestion broadcasting
is just about the last “safe harbor” from indecency:
“There are a ton
of cable networks that are
aimed exclusively at children.
There are five, six,
eight stations that I guarantee
… you will see none
of that language.”

Phillips, asked by Justice
Kennedy whether it is inevitable
that every celebrity or
wannabe will be cussing on
TV: “I think it is inevitable,
regardless, that people are
going to continue to use language
that they naturally use.
So, yes, I do think you can expect
on cable and any other
forum in which you have humans
speaking that this kind
of language will expand.”

ESPN Screens Boring
BCS Final in Dazzling
3DTV at CES Event

LAS VEGAS — Showcasing its fledgling ESPN 3D service,
the sports giant hosted a showing of college
football’s BCS Championship Game on a gigantic
movie screen at the Las Vegas Hotel & Casino, the
renamed LV Hilton. (For more International Consumer
Electronics Show coverage.)

The 3D was good. The food was good. The game was
horrible.

The Crimson Tide’s defense absolutely shamed the
LSU Tigers, shutting them out with a final score of
21-0. Still, the marquee game of the BCS delivered
boffo ratings: The telecast scored cable’s secondlargest
audience ever, with 24.2 million viewers, after
last year’s BCS title game pitting Auburn against Oregon.

ESPN says that with 3D it “strives to bring fans the
closest thing to a real-life experience ever televised.”
But so what if it’s in 3D? The game was a snoozer.

Certain shots were spectacular in 3D — chiefl y, a
field-level shot of the punt return by Alabama’s Marquis
Maze
in the first quarter, which set up the Tide’s
first field goal.

You really felt like you were right there.

The larger point is: 3D is an effect, a seasoning to
enhance the flavor of what should be compelling TV.
It was cool to see the depth on the field, and the ball
spiraling toward the sidelines.

But while Hollywood blockbusters can (sometimes)
obscure a weak storyline with razzle-dazzle 3D effects,
live TV is beholden to what’s going on right
now. And no amount of slo-mo 3D replays could make
up for the fact that LSU failed to live up to the pregame
hype.

Spike TV Parties Hard
In Sin City to Celebrate
‘CES All Access’ Debut

LAS VEGAS — For its inaugural “CES All Access” coverage
of the Consumer Electronics Show, Spike TV hosted a
raging dance party at the Wynn’s Tryst Nightclub last
Tuesday (Jan. 10).

Cutting a rug on the dance floor was Spike’s CES
celebrity
host, Eliza
Dushku

she of Buffy
the Vampire
Slayer
and
Dollhouse renown
— who
provided live
cutaways for
the network’s
11 p.m. wrap
show.

Her technology
cred?
Apparently,
Ms. Dushku
has a cult following among the geek cognoscenti.

The Wire attempted to chat briefly with Dushku after
her standup concluded, but she brushed us off by saying,
“I’ve been here for an hour, and I still haven’t seen my
boyfriend!”

Spike’s broadcast center was perched atop the
Renaissance Las Vegas Hotel, looking down on the
throngs filing into the convention center. But the network’s
big banner on the side of the hotel was obscured
by palm trees — one of the natural hazards of Vegas’s
fake desert oasis.

Colbert Hands Off PAC,
Explores Entering Race,
Emulating Pat Paulsen

Stephen Colbert told his Comedy Central audience last
Thursday he’s forming an exploratory committee to consider
a run for president of the United States of South
Carolina. Colbert, who ran there in 2008, has been riffing
on a home-state poll that placed him above GOP candidate
Jon Huntsman (5% to 4%).

His subtle point was how porous the firewalls are
between candidates
and the
“SuperPACs”
that back them.
Colbert’s handoff
of his own
SuperPAC to
business partner
Jon Stewart
is must-see TV.

But Colbert
also inspired
dozens on Twitter to recall the late, great comedian Pat
Paulsen
, who ran for president six times between 1968
and 1996. His slogans included “If Elected, I Will Win”
and “I’ve Upped My Standards — Now Up Yours.”

In 1972, the FCC deemed Paulsen a “serious candidate.”
He was appearing in an episode of Disney’s
The Mouse Factory, and broadcasters were warned they
might have to give other candidates equal time later,
the Associated Press reported, unsatirically.

Paulsen invocations on Twitter lately have mostly
been about other serious GOP candidates: Huntsman
(“Paul Paulsen reincarnated,” per @Born2bFree) and
Ron Paul (“less funny,” says @spenski).

Good luck, Stephen.