RULES AND REGULATIONS: It’s hardly front page news, but Broadcasting & Cable magazine carried a story last week on a ruling by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission that the TV spin-off of the popular gossip site TMZ.com qualifies as a news program, and is exempt from the Equal Opportunities Clause that obliges a show or network to offer equal time to a political candidate if their opponent is given airtime.
Twenty years ago, Entertainment Tonight was the beneficiary of a similar ruling, and Telepictures, the producers of TMZ’s syndicated show, were eager to obtain this exemption. “Based on the record before us," read the FCC ruling, "we conclude that TMZ does qualify as a bona fide newscast because it reports news of some area of current events in a manner similar to more traditional newscasts. In addition, we have no evidence before us of bad faith or unreasonableness on the part of Telepictures.”
What’s really interesting about this is that it underlines how much politicians have come to inhabit the same cultural plateau as more typical celebrities, like rock musicians and movie stars, so much so that their foibles and misdeeds have become as much the fodder for a gossip show as the latest pantsless appearance by a coked-out ingénue. It should come as no surprise to anyone who’s been following the Democratic primaries, which has been marked by a relentless bitch factor and shamelessly partisan critical rhetoric that reminds one more of the lobbying for Oscar nominations and statues than anything like the affairs of state.
The Equal Opportunity Clause is a rare statute of the U.S. cultural bureaucracy that seems almost Canadian in its nannyish intentions, but it’s feared enough that, while he was in the running for the Republican nomination, it forced networks to consider pulling reruns of Law & Order that featured regular cast member Senator Fred Thompson, for fear that NBC would be forced to order episodes starring Ron Paul as a judge, or Mike Huckabee as Connie Rubirosa’s new boyfriend.
PAULA FOREVER: “Why would we get rid of Paula?” asked American Idol executive producer Cecile Frot-Coutaz last week, after Idol judge Paula Abdul speculated about the musical performance of an Idol contestant that hadn’t aired yet, and kicked off a storm of speculation about what the show is hiding from viewers and, while we’re at it, just what Paula’s on.
“I love that everyone was talking about it," Frot-Coutaz told an Associated Press reporter two days after the show aired. "It was so unexpected. It was something that took up 2 seconds of airtime. You'd think there was no other news on television.” And so Abdul has raised the bar on her own ratings-grabbing goof-ups on the show, and will likely have to deliver future verdicts by interpretive dance, or emerge from a commercial break wearing Ryan Seacrest’s skin.
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