The producer of a primetime reality show recently wanted to show a revealing shot of a contestant, a studio exec recalls. The exec, who did not want to be identified, told TMZ he gave the producer his standard reply: "What's the risk/reward ratio?" In other words, he explains, "is the sexy shot worth the risk of the station being fined or the show being canceled?"
The fact is, Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction two years ago has had a profound impact on television. The studio exec says that since Miss Jackson's incident, "We've gotten calls from stations threatening to pull shows if we don't do a perfect job of policing."
With station licenses at risk, every decision near the fine line between good TV and bad taste is now scrutinized. After fining Viacom $550,000 for the Janet Jackson incident, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) went on a tear. In 2004, the FCC nailed stations with fines exceeding $7.7 million. Just four years before, the grand total was only $48,000 in fines.
Stations got the message loud and clear. Pamela Anderson's pole dance on NBC's Elton John special never saw air. Paris Hilton's racy Carl's Jr. ad was pulled shortly after it began airing. And Mischa Barton's partially-explosed nipple on 'The O.C.' caused quite the stir.
The TV exec says the FCC "fear factor" has subsided some, but his studio is still not taking the same chances it took pre-Jackson.
A prominent TV executive producer who currently runs a hit daytime show says, after Janet, everyone got "paranoid" about saying bad words on TV, and, he adds, "not the normal seven bad words." He continues, "We cleaned up every kind of off-color remark." He says the stations sent out the message that "if there's a bad word on your show and it gets on the air and the FCC comes after us, we're going to come after you." But in the last few months, he says, he's back to taking some chances. Recently, he did not edit out the words "damn" and "bitch."