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FCC Investigates Kansas City Station After Airing of ‘Private Lessons’

January 16, 1988

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The attractive young woman on the television screen seductively invites an adolescent Peeping Tom into her bedroom and asks if he wants to watch her undress.

″Well, sure, I guess so,″ the wide-eyed boy manages to utter.

What happens next leaves little to the imagination and may have been one of the scenes that led the Federal Communications Commission to begin a legal action against the TV station for airing ″Private Lessons.″

The movie in some form or another has been broadcast by some 46 other TV stations across the country, but it was a complaint filed against the version aired by KZKC-TV, Kansas City, that has put the film in the spotlight.

The FCC’s investigation of the station’s broadcast signals the agency’s intent to apply its tough new decency standards to television as well as radio. The standards do not apply to cable TV.

The station aired in prime-time last May what appears to be a slightly- edited version of the 1980 sex-comedy, starring Sylvia Kristel, that was shown in movie theaters with an R rating, requiring anyone under 17 to be accompanied by an adult.

In telling the story of a wealthy 15-year-old boy who is seduced by his housekeeper, most of the bare-breasted scenes in the theater version were left in the version KZKC aired.

The station’s owners said their version of the film violated their own guidelines ″for good taste and good sense″ and that the people who made the decision to air it are no longer at the station.

″I reacted very strongly to it at the time,″ said Morton Kent, chairman of the board of the Chattanooga, Tenn.-based Media Central Inc., general partner of KZKC.

As with most films distributed for television, stations can choose between the theater version, which they can edit themselves, and a version already edited for TV, said Ben Efraim, producer of ″Private Lessons,″ a Barry & Enright Productions film.

In the case of ″Private Lessons,″ the version that was edited for TV removed all the nudity and added about 20 minutes of new material that played down the seduction theme and refocused the movie on a blackmail theme, which had been a sub-plot in the original, he said.

″It appears they (KZKC) ran the theatrical version,″ Efraim said, though station employees have declined to comment on the matter. ″I never expected by any stretch of the imagination that version to play on American free TV. We were very careful when we made that movie to make sure we had enough to do a TV version.″

Stations have run the movie in various forms across the country in the evening viewing hours known as prime-time, with differing results and, with the exception of KZKC, no formal complaints to the FCC.

At KITN-TV in Minneapolis, film director Al Calkins said he got the theater version and cleaned up most of the nudity but ″we did get a little reaction to it because of the theme″ of the movie.

The TV-edited version was shown on WPMI-TV in Mobile, Alabama, and program director Debby Hunt said ″I don’t remember any problems with it.″ She said the station usually orders the TV version of a move and sometimes even cuts that before airing it.

WGBO-TV in Chicago edited the theater version heavily and ″we had no problems with it,″ said program manager George Leh. ″I always have concern with those kinds of movies.″

WBFS-TV in Miami also edited the theater version and ″the movie has been successful for us,″ said program manager Gene Steinberg. ″We edit for frontal nudity and clean up the language.

″We edit all our movies to be appropriate for our community,″ he said.

When the FCC considers a complaint about a radio or TV program, it does not take into account the standards of a particular community.

Rather, the FCC has said ″indecency will be judged by the standard of an average broadcast viewer or listener,″ although it has declined to issue a laundry list of do’s and don’ts.

The commission last April said it would apply the wording of a 1978 Supreme Court decision that says indecent material is ″language or material that depicts or describes, in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards for the broadcast medium, sexual or excretory activities or organs.″

The commission said indecent programming may be aired only after midnight and before 6 a.m. when children are not likely to be in the audience.

However, obscene programming - defined as sexually explicit material that appeals to the prurient interest and lacks any serious literary, artistic or scientific value - cannot be aired at any time.

The FCC has said further actions under the new decency rules are not imminent, but the agency is investigating indecency complaints against at least 10 other TV stations and 20 radio stations.

It chose to act against the KZKC broadcast because ″it was the clearest and best documented case the (commission) had before it,″ said FCC spokesman John Kamp.

If the FCC determines that the station’s broadcast violated its decency standards, it could issue a reprimand or impose a fine of up to $10,000. It also could move to revoke the station’s license, but Kamp said that would be ″higly unlikely″ in such a case.

As for other TV stations, the agency’s action in the case could have an impact on future editing.

″Will we be more cautious now?″ asked WBFS-TV’s Steinberg. ″Probably.″

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