FCC, Soaps and Star Magazine

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The FCC wreaks havoc & The effect on daytime

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Dear Suds Buds, 

Okay so one day last week I get a frantic call from a reporter from Star Magazine.  Seems that the brouhaha over the last Super Bowl half-time show – which gave new meaning to the phrase “Boob Tube” --  has most broadcasters scrambling.  Seven-second delays have been incorporated into live broadcasts.  Radio shock jock Howard Stern’s days are numbered, as the parent company that owns the radio stations on which he broadcasts are no longer willing to absorb the hefty FCC fines caused by the raunchiness of his program. 

And then, Michael J. Copps, the FCC commissioner who has led the agency's campaign against adult-oriented radio programs, opened another Pandora’s box recently when he told reporters that they – the FCC  -- should review whether soap operas violate the agency's indecency prohibitions. This as reported in the Washington Times and attributed according to the Times, to Television Week, an industry trade publication.

Copps, one of two Democrats on the five-member FCC panel, allegedly said he stumbled across a racy soap-opera scene while channel-surfing recently.

Suddenly those involved in daytime were being hounded by the press.  Network publicists from ABC, NBC and CBS declined to comment.  When Star Magazine contacted me last week, and I told the networks and publicists of some of the soaps that they were asking around, a few publicists gave me their candid responses on the issue, that being, that there is really no issue here and we agreed that Soaps are not about elicit sex. They are all about romance.  However, some network execs cautioned, be careful what you say to the Star. You know that magazine.  Were they implying that the Star might twist my words?  One network exec was rather cold in saying, we are not commenting. The magazine is talking to anyone who will talk to them.

But I felt confident that my responses to the emailed questions of the Starr reporter were so positive and promotionally oriented, they would only show the industry in a good light. 

Here is what they asked me and here are my answers:

Star Mag:   Many soaps are nearly half a century old.  Do you know if they’ve always been so sexually explicit and/or when it began to be so?

Me:  “I wouldn’t call soaps ‘sexually explicit.’  Soaps are all about love and romance. Yes, there may be love scenes in soaps, but they come from character and character relationships.  They are more romance and not explicit sex.  I think that romance has always been an integral part of soap storytelling.”

Star Mag:  After so many years uncensored, do you believe, given their afternoon airtime, that they should be censored now?

Me:  “No. American Soaps have never used off color language, or exploited nudity. Soaps are a socially responsible medium, often bringing health-oriented messages and/or constructive information, such as rape crisis management, home to the viewer.  The CDC (Center for Disease Control) in Atlanta recognizes the soap industry as key in spreading the word on such issues as HIV awareness and other health concerns, and via the Soap Summit, awards storylines and soaps for their conscientiousness in this regard.  Watching of favorite soaps is a generational thing, handed down from grandmother to daughter to granddaughter, etc. Kids have always watched soaps with their mom or grandmom and grow to love the same show(s).  Soaps have always been fully aware of the age range of their viewers, and write to that audience.”

Star Mag: How do you think soaps will deal with the watchful eye of the FCC?

Me:  “I think it’s a non-issue for soaps.”

Star Mag:  Do you think scripts will be re-written to eliminate graphic sexual scenes?

Me:  “Again, I wouldn’t consider the love scenes in soaps as ‘graphically sexual.’  They are tender, loving and romantic, and do not, in any way, predominate storytelling. I don’t think that the recent Super Bowl debacle – which gave new meaning to the phrase ‘boob tube,’ should or will have an impact on the writing of soaps.”

Star Mag:  Do you think soap actors would prefer not to have so many graphic love scenes?

Me:  “I think that the actors work very hard to stay in good shape and condition – just in case they do have a love scene coming up!  Imagine being a guy and being bare-chested in front of millions of viewers. But then, there are some actors who would prefer not to have so many close-up shots either, and close ups is what television is all about.  Soap actors are all beautiful and stunning people and the camera loves them. Close ups are part of the job, as are romantic scenes.”

Star Mag:  Do you think people within the soap industry are nervous about the FCC scrutiny?

Me:  “Nervous is not the proper word.  I think that they are certainly aware of the current climate, but don’t anticipate any fallout, as I believe it is a non issue for them.”

Star Mag: And any comment you’d like to add?

Me: “The soap industry works very hard to entertain and educate its audience.  Soaps air five days a week, 52 weeks a year, with never a re-run and hardly a pre-emption.  They provide for the viewer, 30 to 60 minutes of escape each day.”

Well, guess what, my dear Suds Buds!  My comments were so positive, and so lacking sensationalism, they did not make it into the published article for Star Magazine!  But it is gratifying to know that Lynn Leahey, editorial director of SOD and SPW shares similar sentiments, according to the article in the Washington Times:   "The bottom line is, these shows are about romance, not sex. It's always been that way; it will always be that way," Leahey is quoted as saying

But could the brouhaha about indecency in soaps be all for naught?  When The Washington Times attempted to reach Copps subsequent to his comments about channel surfing and finding a racy soap, they were unable to contact him as he was traveling. But, according to one of his aides, the commissioner's remarks do not necessarily mean he will seek an investigation into soap operas or daytime television in general.

Guess like on the soaps, we will just all have to stay tuned to see what happens next.

Do you think soaps are too racy? Let me know on the Criticize the Critic Message Board.

Til the top of next week,

Linda Marshall-Smith
CEO, Soapdom, Inc.

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