Through the Wire


Cable Programmers Defend Sexy Scenes

With lawmakers in Washington still complaining about indecent content on TV, some of cable’s raciest programmers are finding a need to justify why their characters must cavort in the nude and sleep around so much.

It’s not gratuitous, writers and producers insisted during cable’s part of the Television Critics Association tour on the Left Coast this month.

Ryan Murphy, creator/executive producer of edgy basic-cable network FX’s controversial Nip/Tuck, called his show “the most sexual on television, much to the cast’s chagrin sometimes.”

But not for ratings or attention, the kinky sex is meant to illustrate “the pain behind these characters, as opposed to the joy,” Murphy explained. Nip/Tuck’s characters “use sexuality on the show to mask [their] inability to have intimacy. That is one of things the show is about.”

Original shows on premium channels have long featured sex and nudity. Maybe that’s why Cynthia Mort, creator of new HBO drama Tell Me You Love Me, sounded so surprised at the stir the show’s graphic sex scenes were causing. It’s part of the drama, she said. “The sex always was there in service of intimacy, and in service of love.”

Showtime’s Californication stars David Duchovny as a blocked writer on a show where actors bare much more than Mulder ever revealed on The X-Files. Why so much sex and nudity in that show? Explained the star: “He had certain vices, certain abuses, that he is following. Therefore, you see him smoking. You see him drinking. You see him drugging. You see him having sex. These are important things for the guy’s state of mind and for the show.

“It’s not done in a gratuitous fashion,” he stressed. “It’s part of the character.”

No sacrifice is too great for art.

By the Way — Don’t Touch The Removable CableCard

Congratulations to those consumers among the first to receive one of the new digital set-tops preloaded with a removable CableCard.

Now, don’t touch the damn thing.

You’d need a screwdriver to even get a look at the CableCard, a device that contains the encryption technology needed to access TV programming. Scientific Atlanta’s CableCard boxes, for example, have a snug-fitting cover, secured by four screws, that seals the slot where the card goes.

“You wouldn’t want to take it out,” explained Scientific Atlanta director of public relations Sara Stutzenstein. “People have no real need to tamper with it. The cover is there so customers aren’t tempted to play with it.”

Motorola’s boxes have similar hatches. User manuals for Moto’s CableCard line of products include this instruction about the M-Card, which is the multistream version of CableCards that operators are typically deploying: “The M-Card is required to view cable television programs, previously recorded programs on the DVR, or interactive on-demand programs. The M-Card should not be removed.” (Emphasis ours.)

True, someone could theoretically take out a CableCard and pop it into a CableCard-ready TV set. But that would render the set-top inoperable. It’d be easier to simply order a separate CableCard from your operator in the first place.

So, what’s the point of having a removable card?

To recap, class: The Federal Communications Commission’s rule that made CableCard-enabled set-tops mandatory for most operators as of July 1 is supposed to result in the technology working better, now that cable companies themselves must depend on CableCards.

We wonder how many ordinary customers will be curious enough to ferret out that obscure detail — if they even know about the covert CableCard stuck in the back of their set-tops.

'Sir Charge’ Roams Apple, Burning Consumers’ Cash

A distinguished-looking gentleman, in bowler hat and riding in a full stretch limousine, turned up in places like Yankee Stadium, the Staten Island Ferry and Staten Island’s South Beach Boardwalk last week.

His name is Sir Charge, and he doesn’t represent a new British invasion.

He’s the creation of marketers at Time Warner Cable, meant to symbolize for consumers the “hidden fees in phone bills” of cable’s telephone competitors. (The punchline in one commercial airing in New York ends with him decrying, “Who’s going to bloody pay for this suit?”)

In a viral campaign, the nobleman burned “money” to warn passersby of the dangers of fees represented by surcharges on phone bills. And, in a dividend to consumers, he visited radio stations which in turn told listeners that if they spotted Sir Charge on the street, they’d earn a chance to win a year of digital cable, residential phone and Road Runner high-speed Internet.

Bright House Networks in Tampa, Fla., is plucking a similar tune with safari-themed campaign dubbed “Asterisk Hunters.” Consumers are directed to a Web site to track down the asterisks in phone-company service offers.