On TV, 'Extreme Caution' vs. Free Speech

The Academy of Television Arts and Sciences really liked Sally Field Sunday night. Fox, it seems, did not.

While accepting an Emmy for best lead actress in a drama (for her role as Nora Walker on ABC's "Brothers & Sisters"), the 60-year-old actress who memorably peppered her 1985 Oscar acceptance speech with the much-parodied assertion "You really like me!" used her stage time to make an anti-war statement.

"At the heart of Nora Walker, she is a mother. So surely this belongs to all the mothers of the world … and to especially the mothers who stand with an open heart and wait -- wait for their children to come home from danger, from harm's way and from war," Field said before stumbling over her words, appearing to lose her train of thought and blurting, "Let's face it, if the mothers ruled the world, there would be no god----"

null

That's when the sound and picture cut out, leaving Emmy viewers across the country to wonder what Field said. She reportedly concluded that sentence with "damn wars," but Fox, airing the Emmys on a time-delay, did not cut back to the stage after Field finished talking.

Now, after a year of highly publicized debates about what's appropriate to say on air and what's not, many people are wondering what exactly made the network jump: the expletive or the sentiment?

Network Paranoia?

In an e-mail statement Monday, Fox explained why they chose to censor three parts of Sunday's Emmy broadcast. (In addition to cutting away from Field, Fox also dropped sound during Ray Romano and Katherine Heigl's speeches.)

"Some language during the live broadcast may have been considered inappropriate by some viewers. As a result, Fox's broadcast standards executives determined it appropriate to drop sound and picture during those portions of the show," the statement said.

The network declined to comment on Field's case specifically. But Bob Thompson, Syracuse University professor of popular culture, speculates that Fox's decision was about Field's questionable language, not her anti-war message.

"FCC indecency rules have to do, essentially, with sex, poo-poo and pee pee," he said. "She didn't say any of that. But my guess is that if she said, 'There'd be no damn wars,' they probably would have let it go."

Despite George Carlin's infamous "Seven Dirty Words" monologue, the FCC doesn't have a list of words it considers profane. In its consumer fact sheet, the FCC defines profanity as "including language so grossly offensive to members of the public who actually hear it as to amount to a nuisance."

With no black and white rules, it's up to the networks to decide what words are appropriate for air. And many allow "god----" in scripted shows.

According to the Parents Television Council, a consumer advocacy organization that tracks instances of profanity, sex and violence in prime-time television, three shows on FX -- Fox's basic cable channel -- frequently air the word without bleeping it. NBC was the only network that allowed "god----" to air uncensored last year, once on "Scrubs" and once on "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit."

Pressed on why they cut off Field when their own cable channel and others condoned the use of the expletive, a spokesman from Fox said, "FX is a cable network. In the current regulatory environment, the feeling [for broadcast networks] is that we have to err on the side of extreme caution."

Page
  • 1
  • |
  • 2
  • |
  • 3
Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
 
You Might Also Like...
See It, Share It
PHOTO: Patrick Crawford is pictured in this photo from his Facebook page.
Meteorologist Patrick Crawford KCEN/Facebook
Kate Middleton Learns Sign Language
Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images
PHOTO: George Stinney Jr., the youngest person ever executed in South Carolina, in 1944, is seen in this undated file photo.
South Carolina Department of Archives and History/AP Photo
PHOTO: Johns Hopkins University sent nearly 300 acceptance emails to students who had actually been denied.
Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun/Getty Images