Kudocasts scramble; pols eye increased fines

TNT’s telecast of the SAG Awards could for the first time carry a 10-second audio delay, as the fallout over Janet Jackson’s fallen breast continued Thursday.

In addition, a publicist for Jackson confirmed that the singer will not be presenting at this Sunday’s Grammycast (Variety.com, Feb. 3), while industry insiders said CBS and NARAS continue to discuss whether to ask Justin Timberlake to recuse himself from performing at the event.

In an odd coincidence, dozens of execs from Fox Entertainment’s film and TV units met yesterday for a half-day seminar dubbed “Producing Content in the New Millennium: Balancing Creativity and Responsibility.” FCC commissioner Karen Abernathy gave the keynote address, with Fox topper Peter Chernin introducing the day’s proceedings — which had been in the works for nearly six months.

Also, an MTV reality show has been booted off a California campus, while Viacom-owned cabler is about to unveil a new series of PSAs featuring a very unsexy Ms. Jackson.

Almost-live TV?

Here’s the latest from Boobgate:

  • Following Sunday’s Super Bowl shenanigans, TNT execs have talked to SAG and awards exec producer Jeff Margolis about implementing a 10-second delay during the live Feb. 22 telecast. ABC has decided on a five-second delay for its upcoming Oscarcast (Daily Variety, Feb. 4).

“It’s under discussion, but no final decision has been made,” a TNT spokeswoman said.

  • Chernin called the Fox meeting as a forum for employees to discuss the changing political climate on what’s indecent or offensive. In addition to Abernathy, Brent Bozell, who heads media watchdog group the Parents Television Council, showed up to give a lecture on the negative impact of graphic programming on kids.

The meeting could help prepare Fox execs for a grilling next week on Capitol Hill. House and Senate committees are calling on Viacom/CBS topper Mel Karmazin to testify at two indecency and broadcast standards hearings skedded to take place on both sides of the Capitol Wednesday. Congressional sources said Karmazin is expected to agree to come if other net execs also show up; NFL Paul Tagliabue has also been asked to make an appearance.

If the net execs show up, hearings will be the hot ticket in Washington that day, with Congress poised to pass legislation boosting fines for indecency violations tenfold.

Language upping the FCC fines was quietly included in the Senate’s FCC authorization bill, which passed the committee and awaits floor action, a Senate aide said Thursday evening. Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) has vowed to push a companion bill through the House panel by Feb. 16.

Fox asks for caution

The Fox lot indecency symposium came the same day an exec at the net asked the feds to take a cautious approach when deciding what constitutes a violation in its new zero-tolerance attitude toward the f-word and other expletives. Late last month, Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), a prominent member of the House Energy and Commerce panel, asked the Big Four to spell out their content standards.

In its letter to Dingell, Fox Entertainment prexy Gail Berman defended the use of the f-word on “rare” occasions for artistic reasons on programming that does not target children and includes clear parental advisories. She also warned about the “chilling effect” that imposing millions of dollars in indecency fines would have. Fox joined ABC and NBC, who also sent letters to Dingell, in defending the use of the f-word when context calls for it; Dingell has yet to receive a response from CBS.

“We believe that the FCC has historically followed a cautious approach to indecency enforcement — and for good reason,” Berman wrote. “The FCC’s indecency standard is inherently vague, yet it constitutes a restriction on creative content protected by the core of the First Amendment. Whenever content creators are faced with government interference, particularly if the standard for oversight is vague, there is a serious risk of chilling free speech.”

Berman also said the net has implemented several enhancements to its time delay on all live programming after Nicole Richie repeated a string of profanities at the 2003 Billboard Music awards.

Interestingly, during Wednesday’s “American Idol,” Fox aired a 30-second PSA showing viewers how to use the TV content ratings system. A net spokesman said the spot was filmed before the Super Bowl and said it had aired before.

School expels net

  • MTV has been prohibited from shooting an upcoming reality show at a Southern California high school.

After receiving overwhelming complaints from parents, Laguna Beach Unified School District officials voted unanimously Wednesday to halt MTV’s production on the planned reality series revolving around the lives of the students at Laguna Beach High School. Cabler began production on the show Tuesday with the district set to receive between $12,000 and $40,000, plus royalties, for college scholarships.

“We’re disappointed with this decision and we’re going to take a look at how to best proceed,” MTV spokeswoman Janet Hill said in a statement.

Janet gets serious

  • The rehabilitation of Jackson has begun in earnest, and taking the lead is MTV sister network BET.

The vehicle: a series of 10 30-second vignettes featuring a subdued, furrowed-brow Jackson, dressed almost dowdily in conservative black, speaking directly to cable viewers about dignified African-American personages ranging from Sidney Poitier and Harriet Tubman to Marion Anderson and Paul Robeson.

Forget about what BET calls Jackson’s “edgy and sexy persona,” which exploded during the halftime of last week’s Super Bowl game when Justin Timberlake ripped her costume, baring her right breast live before an estimated audience of 90 million people.

In the BET spots, Jackson comes off like the mother superior of a nunnery. “Her tone is serious and focused,” says a BET statement, and she takes on the “air and diction of a seasoned lecturer.”

These spots will run throughout BET’s schedule during February’s Black History Month. No music or special effects will interrupt the solemnity of these messages.

(John Dempsey, Denise Martin and the Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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