FCC and GOP May Over Reach If They Go After Cable TV

David Kiley

The FCC and prominent Republicans seem interested in regulating decency on cable TV the way they do on the broadcast networks. It's an interesting prospect. But one that could bite them at the polls if they continue to misread the public.

The rumblings in Washington is that new F.C.C. chairman Kevin Martin may be interested in cleaning up Tony Soprano's gutter mouth and Michael Chiklis's tough-talking skin-flashing squadroom on The Shield on FX just to name a few. The trouble with this strategy, of course, is that cable TV, not to mention the racier shows on network like ABC's Desperate Housewives, is as popular in red states as those shaded blue.

In reading the public's responses in surveys, one has to be careful not to read too much. Ask a parent, for example, "Do You think there is too much sex and violence on TV and would you support regulation that would set tighter standards of decency?," and I suspect that more than 50% will say "yes." What parent wouldn't want to be on the record with that thought. That "yes," though, may well have very little do with how that parent behaves at home. Parents who do not watch The Sopranos at 9PM when their adolescent kids are still awake, will watch it at 11:30 or record the show and watch it whenever.

I don't think I'm off base when I suggest that consumers, red state or blue, are not that keen on having choices removed by the government. Witness the scant support Congress received when they intervened in the Terry Schiavo case. The degree to which even right-of-center consumer/voters want the Feds mucking around in their lives, limiting choices and acting like an Extreme Nanny can easily be over-estimated.

Conservatives seem poised to over-reach in President Bush's second term. They have been winning thir battle to deny same-sex marriage rights, because it's easy to demonize gay people. Who do you demonize when you go after people who watch the Sopranos or The Shield? The answer" voters. They can paint Hollywood as out of touch with mainstream values, but why is The Sopranos so successful? NYPD Blue? Desperate Housewives? The Shield? It's because people choose to watch them. I don't think the conservatives can make David Chase (Sopranos creator) or Steven Bochko (NYPD Blue) the villains in this fight without also accusing the people watching the shows of being indecent.

And that just doesn't sound like good politics.

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