Tag Archive: CBS

Role of Censorship on “The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson”

Craig Ferguson is the host of CBS’ “The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson” which airs weeknights at 12:35/11:35p.m (central). Ferguson, born in Glasgow, Scotland, began his career in the entertainment world as a drummer in several Scottish punk bands. After discovering his talent as a comedian, the British Broadcasting Corporation gave Ferguson his own TV show, entitled,  “The Ferguson Theory.” Ferguson moved to the United States and gained fame in America by acting on The Drew Carey Show during 1996-2004. After acting on the Carey show, he began hosting “The Late Late Show” in 2005 as a successor to Craig Kilborn. Ferguson’s monologue style is unique because he uses a free style, off-the-cuff approach. The humor of The Late Late Show comes from his strong Scottish accent combined with the unpredictable and ridiculous delivery of his jokes. During the monologue and interviews with guests, Ferguson will do and say almost anything to get a laugh and is completely unaffected by the fact that some people may be offended by his behavior. The latest episode of The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson aired on Tuesday, November, 16, 2010, and was full of his typical style of comedy. Throughout the episode, Ferguson made several jokes and used terms that raise the issue of censorship and tolerance of offensive words on television.

There are a number of factors that determine whether words are considered profane compared to words that are acceptable to say on television. Some of these factors include the type of network, genre of the show, and time of day it airs. A combination of these factors will determine whether the Federal Communication Commission regulates the content of the programs or not. The FCC was established by the Communications Act of 1934 and regulates under Title 47 of the Code of Federal Regulations. The type of network factor comes into play here because the FCC’s jurisdiction only applies to broadcast networks, such as CBS, Fox, ABC, and NBC, and does not cover cable or restricted-access networks, like BRAVO or HBO. The FCC’s enforcement process begins by allowing the public to file complaints about potential obscene, indecent, or profane material aired on television. The FCC examines each complaint and if it contains sufficient information to suggest a possible violation, an investigation will begin. After the investigation, the FCC determines whether the material is obscene, indecent or profane, and if so, the Enforcement Bureau issues a Notice of Apparent Liability to the broadcaster. The broadcaster is given an opportunity to respond to the notice by the Commissioner. The Commission reviews the complaint, along with the response, and decides whether to grant or deny it. If the complaint is granted, the Commission may issue sanctions to the broadcaster for violation of its policies.

Material that rises to the level of obscenity is always prohibited on television, regardless of what time and in what context it airs . Indecent and profane material does not rise to the level of being “obscene” and is only prohibited by the FCC during the hours of 6am-10pm. Civil enforcement of these requirements rests with the FCC, and is an important part of the FCC’s overall responsibilities. Indecent or profane material aired on broadcast networks after 10pm are not prohibited under the regulation of the FCC. However, most networks institute self-censorship policies for late-night programs. Broadcasters often choose to censor material without being forced to do so out of fear of losing advertisers or to give deference to the the sensibilities of viewers. Indecent material is prohibited throughout the day and during prime time hours, due largely because of the children that may be subjected to the material. Indecent material and adult content are not prohibited during what is referred to as “Safe Harbor.” Safe harbor, known as “watershed” in countries other than the U.S., is the time period in television  during which “adult content” may be shown. Adult content is an image or language depicting or referring to explicit sexual intercourse, graphic violence, drug use, or the use of strong language. The Supreme Court established this Safe Harbor principle in the 1978 case, FCC v. Pacifica. In the U.S., Safe Harbor time begins at 10:00pm and ends at 6:00am for all time zones. Networks need to be mindful of the time zone aspect of these rules because each of the 4 U.S. time zones enters its Safe Harbor at 10pm in its local time. Thus, network affiliates need to ensure that the same show airing at 10pm in one zone does not fall outside the Safe Harbor in another zone.

Since the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson airs at such a late hour, it falls under Safe Harbor and indecent material aired during this time is not subject to the rules of the FCC. CBS engages in the self-censorship of Ferguson’s show, which is evidenced by the bleeping out of curse words spoken by Ferguson or his guests. TV shows have been bleeping-out profane words for years, but some shows are beginning to intentionally include swear words and later bleeping them out for comedic effect. Whenever profanity is used on “The Late Late Show,” the person’s mouth is covered up by a country’s flag and is bleeped by a phrase from that particular country. An example of this can be seen from Tuesday’s show when Ferguson uses a swear word and his mouth is covered by a French national flag and is bleeped by the phrase “Oooh-la-la.”

Ferguson makes it obvious during his monologue that CBS is concerned with the language and content of the material of his program. An example of this from Tuesday’s episode is when Ferguson makes references to city of Bangkok and Lake Titicaca. The only reason he mentions these places is for the mere fact that the words sound like “cock” and “titty”, slang terms referring to parts of the body. Ferguson then makes jokes by rhyming words with the terms “testicles” and “vagina” After making these ridiculous jokes, Ferguson looks to the side of the stage and tells the person in charge of censoring what he says on the show, “It’s a real place/thing and you can’t touch me.” Ferguson also frequently says “CBS cares” and “I expect your letters” after he makes comments or jokes that he knows will offend some viewers. Ferguson is aware that he may be offensive to some viewers, but that does not stop him from saying exactly what he wants within the bounds of the self-imposed limits CBS places on his show.

By using common scientific terminology for body parts and referring to actual places, Ferguson avoids the risk of saying anything that can get him in trouble with CBS. Also, the shows use of “bleeping” curse words is just one example of the ways actors or programs can come up with creative ways to include edgy, controversial material without getting in trouble by its network or the FCC. Another way networks do this is by using grawlixes, which are symbols that take the place of the letters of a curse word. An example of this in television can be seen in the title of the CBS show, “$#*! My Dad Says.” Minced oaths are also commonly used as euphemisms to avoid swearing. An example of a minced oath is the term “fugly” which combines the offensive “F” word with the word “ugly.” These methods are all creative ways  broadcasters get indecent material into programs without violating the FCC or its own censorship rules. These methods are sometimes refered to as “veiled expletives.” Series often use veiled expletives because harsher language adds to the believability and reality of a situation, such as in crime dramas and reality shows. Whether the network is strategically placing expletives in material to add to the comedy, drama, or reality of the program, it is a common tool being used in television to stretch the bounds of censorship.

Amusement Parks in CSI…Not So Amusing

In the most recent CSI episode, “Cold-Blooded“, which aired on CBS on October 28, 2010, the Crime Scene Investigation team are called in to investigate the death of college student Brian Barry (Nate Hartley). Barry, a paleontology student at fictional WLV University, is found dead in the desert.  Head investigator Ray Langston (Laurence Fishburne) discovers that the night previous he attended “Walking with Dinosaurs” with his girlfriend Jane Lewis (Nora Kirkpatrick).  “Walking with Dinosaurs” is an interactive show which forms part of a larger museum and amusement park venue dedicated to the extinct form of life.

Langston explores the origins of Barry’s bodily injuries and learns that Barry died from a head injury, after a brief stint in the life-size T-Rex’s mouth. The next step is to decipher whether his death should be ruled a homicide or an accident. Video surveillance shows Jane making out with her seat neighbor, Travis Kilborn (James Immekus), while Barry went for a snack. This alerts suspicion that Lewis is somehow involved in Barry’s death because she failed to mention the relationship when intially questioned. Dr. Langston elicits a confession from the pair: after the show, the three drunkenly explored the exhibit. Barry, feeling especially brave, decided to climb atop the dinosaur to get a closer look. He failed miserably: he lost his footing and landed on the teeth of the T-Rex. His teeth sunk into Barry’s ribcage. Instinctively the man pushed himself off and fell to the floor, dying instantly. This tragic accidental death leads to the issue of amusement park regulations and liabilities.

The US Product Safety Commission’s report states that in 2002, approximately 3,000 injuries were caused by amusement park rides and about 2,500 were caused by inflatables. The report divides the injury cases into six categories: not a ride, fixed-site, mobile, unknown site, unknown if ride, and inflatable. The US Product Safety Commission report serves as an efficient tool that highlights the discrepancy in the state regulation of amusement park rides. Stateline, a website dedicated to state policy and politics published an article in 2000 that discusses the issue further stating that New Jersey boasts the safest amusement parks, while as many as twelve states do not have regulations to protect amusement park visitors.

According to the organization Saferparks, Nevada, where the fictitious Crime Scene Investigation team is based, does not have statewide ride safety laws. Clark County, which includes Las Vegas, is the only county that does have some regulations on the matter.

The present case falls under the fixed-site provided by the Commision’s report because it happened at the park, but not while on  a ride. It is unlikely that Barry’s family will be able to recover under a wrongful death action because he was a trespasser after hours at the park. According to Nevada Statute 455B.070  , “a person who boards an amusement ride without authority or without paying the appropriate consideration will be deemed a trespasser.” Furthermore, the statute states, “a passenger who has attained the age of thirteen years shall be deemed to have knowledge of and assume the inherent risks of an amusement ride to the extent that as those risks are open and obvious to the reasonable person.” Although Brian was not on a ride, it is reasonable to infer that simply being on the premises after hours will also be deemed as trespassing. Additionally, because Brian was a college student, he should have reasonably inferred that he could incur injury while climbing the dinosaurs.

Additionally, Brian was under the influence of alcohol. Nevada Statute 455B.080 prohibits passengers from using an amusement park ride if under the influence of any controlled substance. Although Brian was not on a ride when he died, his alcohol induced state while at the park would not help his family’s wrongful death claim because his state showcases his own negligence.

The present case poses an interesting dilemma because it deals with a tragic occurrence that happened at an amusement park, but not as a result of one of the rides.  More in-depth research shows that this is not uncommon. An interesting article in the Orlando Sentinel observes that a lot of the lawsuits surrounding amusement parks are due to slip and fall claims. Law professors in the article expressed their surprise that more lawsuits aren’t filed, considering the extensive possibilities that exist for tort lawsuits on park grounds. The article provides informative facts on these lawsuits: a lot of them are settled out of court and plaintiffs wait some time before filing the suit.

The article also illustrates examples of past lawsuits in Florida and Puerto Rico, but does not mention any other states where these lawsuis have taken place. Nevada does not have precedent in slip and fall cases at amusement parks, and thus, it is unclear how the Nevada courts would rule in the instant case.

For a list of Nevada theme parks, click here.

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