This week’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling supporting the First Amendment by striking down restrictions on adult entertainment on TV could signal a huge, vibrant porn bonanza on New York cable television.
“I’m thrilled!” said Al Goldstein, the publisher of Screw magazine and the cigar-smoking host of Midnight Blue , Manhattan’s hoary old sex show on public acces cable channel 35. “The government has to get out of our bedrooms!”
Indeed, the Supreme Court’s 5-to-4 vote, issued May 22, could have direct results among the actors, producers and consumers of what was once called pornography–but what may be soon known as Saturday morning cartoons.
The Court, led by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy–supported by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, John Paul Stevens, David H. Souter and Clarence Thomas–ruled in favor of the Playboy Entertainment Group, stating that Congress violated free speech protections with a 1996 Telecommunications Act clause that required cable providers unable to “scramble” adult material to limit their adult content to late evening and early morning hours–a so-called safe harbor period, like 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., when kids are supposed to be asleep, not watching porn superstar Houston in Titman’s Pool Party .
The ruling means that cable providers may now air adult content 24 hours a day, even with a lousy scrambling system. In New York City, you may soon be able to watch Best of Night Calls UK: Shagfest with your morning oat bran. Time Warner Cable, the city’s principal cable carrier, can now, if it desires, offer Playboy T, and its lower-budgeted sisters all day long. “We don’t see a need to change how we are handling the programming from an operational standpoint today,” said Time Warner Cable vice-president Lynn Yaeger, but Playboy Entertainment president Tony Lynn told The Observer he was hopeful that Time Warner New York would soon “return to 24-hour carriage.”
“It’s definitely good news for the adult [entertainment] business, no doubt about that,” said Greg Alves, president of Metro Studios, one of the nation’s leading adult film producers. “It’s going to open up more markets, and I think it’s just showing that adult [entertainment] is getting more and more into the mainstream every day.”
Indeed, Bill Asher, the president of Vivid Entertainment, which owns the Hot Network and Hot Zone, two of Playboy’s chief (though more explicit) competitors, said that some cable carriers have been reluctant to air adult material because of tight restrictions. Those barriers down, Mr. Asher expects more carriers to go adult–and yes, he’s got his eye on Manhattan. “[Cable systems] that were particularly hesitant to take our programming because of its more explicit nature will feel more comfortable that they can do that,” Mr. Asher said.
Playboy, as well as other adult TV titans, had seen its cable access scaled back significantly by the 1996 Telecommunications Act, losing millions of dollars in revenue as a result. Though the vast majority of adult content on television has been voluntarily scrambled for some time (and any subscriber can ask a carrier to block any channel, at no cost), Congress passed the law in response to complaints about pornographic programming accidentally “bleeding through” subscribers’ sets in either audio or video form–tales of grandmothers surfing for The Price Is Right with their grandchildren and stumbling upon happy couples basting in Crisco.
That kind of porn happenstance is less common, however, as cable television technology has improved. Today’s digital delivery technology (which is replacing the old analog system) eliminates the risk of bleed-throughs, and viewers using satellite systems do not experience such problems, either. “The advent of digital boxes will pretty much make this [issue] moot in the future,” said Ms. Yaeger of Time Warner.
But many in the adult entertainment industry think that the Supreme Court ruling will open the door for more channels, more shows, more fame for performers like Houston, already well known for her appearances on Howard Stern’s radio program. In Manhattan, TV may not get gamier (the ruling does not directly affect public access channels or “leased access” channels like 35, where producers pay a fee to air shows), but the gaminess may go 24-7. And production demand for software may go through the roof. Historically, New York has been hospitable to Mr. Goldstein and ageless New York landmark Robin Byrd, as well as phone-sex ads featuring comely men and women stripped to the bone. But never in competition with Bryant Gumbel.
On the other hand, forget Mr. Gumbel; Mr. Goldstein’s hunting for big bears. He suggested a daytime Midnight Blue and a dinnertime Midnight Blue at 6 o’clock. Then it came to him: “And a breakfast Midnight Blue ,” he said. “I would like to compete with The Today Show .”
Tonight on Playboy TV, Sex Guides . [Playboy, 62, 10:30 p.m.]
Thursday, May 25
T Scruffy documentarian Michael Moore is at it again, unleashing another season of in-your-face, occasionally obnoxious political commentary this month with The Awful Truth , his two-year-old series airing Wednesday nights at 10 p.m. on Bravo. Two years represents a bit of stability for Mr. Moore, who has been passed around networks faster than a Tony Danza pilot. “I’m very happy,” he said.
Bravo pretty much lets Mr. Moore do his thing. Future Awful Truth segments feature the Flint, Mich., native hanging out with vacationing Germans in Times Square (“We work 300 more hours per year than the average German,” he said) and hosting a wallet-exchange program in Harlem. (“If you turned in your wallet, the kinds that look like a gun–the kind Amadou Diallo had–we handed out free Day-Glo orange wallets,” he said.) Mr. Moore also plans to hit the G.O.P. convention this summer and offer free colonics to attendees. “Those are going to be real Republicans and those will be real doctors and those will be real colonics,” he said.
Speaking of which, David Brenner has a live comedy special tonight on HBO [HBO, 32, 10 p.m.]
Friday, May 26
Teen People’s 25 Hottest Stars Under 25 . Britney Spears odds 1:4,000,000. [WABC, 7, 8 p.m.]
Saturday, May 27
Observer reporter William Berlind recently caught up with National Basketball Association commissioner David Stern, who spilled the beans that the basketball gods are developing an N.B.A.-based sitcom with Columbia Tri-Star Television.
“They’re looking at treatments that would possibly involve N.B.A. players,” Mr. Stern said. “That would be our goal. It would be N.B.A.-themed and would allow us to move our players though it.”
So what can we expect? Patrick & ‘Zo ? Everybody Loves Van Gundy ? What about Who Wants to Be a Millionaire Riding Pine for the Crappy Vancouver Grizzlies ?
Mr. Stern predicts an animated show. “We’re talking about animation because that has a wonderful global attraction to us.”
And it’s much easier to cast. One suspects the animated Allen Iverson would show up for work on time more often than the actual Allen Iverson.
“Much easier to cast, O.K.,” Mr. Stern said. “They [animated characters] say only what you want them to say.”
Today, watch the Knicks play the Pacers and that Plastic Man, Reggie Miller, in the N.B.A. Playoffs . [WNBC, 4, 3:30 p.m.]
Sunday, May 28
If you’ve never seen WNBC meteorologist Audrey Puente, it’s probably because by the time you’ve rolled out of bed on the weekend, mouth dry, head still rocking from five too many cranberry Finlandias the night before, Ms. Puente’s already on her way home, her day done. She gets into work as early as 4 a.m. to anchor the morning weekend weathercasts, and though she loves her job, she admits the hours take a chomp out of her social life. “It’s horrible,” Ms. Puente said, laughing. “I’m single and young and living in Manhattan, and I’m not going anywhere on Saturday nights.”
The brown-eyed Ms. Puente, who at 30 years old still looks young enough to get carded at R-rated movies, is the daughter of percussionist Tito Puente and his wife, Margaret. But lest you think Ms. Puente’s career owes a debt to her famous dad, rest assured that the Mambo King, for all his talents and albums, has zero juice in the weather world. Like any TV journo with big dreams, Ms. Puente had to toil in the profession’s minor leagues. That meant logging time in newscasting back nines like Savannah, Ga. and the delta city of Greenville, Miss., where Ms. Puente chased tornadoes, studied for a master’s degree in meteorology and survived without decent pizza.
“People were just completely different from anything I ever knew,” Ms. Puente said of her time in the Deep South. “It was very eye opening. I loved it. I was just meeting characters, the kind you read about in books.”
Ms. Puente came back to New York last September to join WNBC, the city’s top-rated station. It was a great break, she said. At WNBC, she does the weekend weather, produces some weather spots and fills in regularly for the station’s weekday meteorologists. Outside work, she’s getting used to people coming up and asking her for an update. “People will stop me on the street and say, ‘When’s it going to stop raining?'” she said, laughing. “But I love weather. I’ll talk about it with anyone.”
And yes, Mom and Dad are very proud. “My mother watches every single thing I do,” Ms. Puente said, adding that her mother is now accustomed to rising in darkness to watch her work. “I say ‘Mom, just set the VCR,'” Ms. Puente said. “But she’s like, ‘No, I’m your mother–I’m going to watch it live!'”
Set the alarm clock, or heck, just stay up and watch Audrey Puente on Sunday’s Today in New York . [WNBC, 4, 6 a.m.]
Monday, May 29
Since when did CBS become the Cajones Broadcasting System? After last week’s up front presentations, it’s clear that the Tiffany Network, like Russell Crowe in Gladiator , isn’t going to lie down in next fall’s schedule like some of its competitors, it’s going march into the TV Coliseum, right into the jaws of Millionaire , and try to slay ABC and Regis. In its gutsiest move, CBS has scheduled perhaps the season’s most eagerly anticipated non-Philbin offering, The Bette Show starring Bette Midler, right across from Millionaire at 8 p.m. on Wednesday nights.
A Bette to the slaughter? Maybe. But points for trying.
CBS also gets points for returning the low-rated City of Angels , a lone African-American dramatic standout in a year where the major networks once again gave little to minority audiences other than goofy sitcoms. So you can forgive CBS Television president Leslie Moonves for sounding a little bit cocky. Asked last May 17 if he was worried about NBC’s much-hyped extreme football league, the XFL, which begins play next winter, Mr. Moonves said: “I wish the XFL was starting next week.”
Tonight on CBS’ King of Queens , Doug and Carrie buy Internet stocks. Must be a repeat! [WCBS, 2, 8:30 p.m.]
Tuesday, May 30
Tonight HBO airs Never Been Kissed with the charming Drew Barrymore and also David Arquette. [HBO, 32, 8 p.m.]