"Pubic Access: Homemade Cable TV Showcases SLeaze "
Millions of couch potatoes tne in each wek to ogle bouncing, bikini-clad breasts on Baywatch, but bare-cunt programming is just a channel click away. Every freak with a video camera and an exhibitionist streak seems to be airing their very own nude revue on basic cable stations, and these low-budget, public-access raunchmongers are transforming the idiot box into a hard-core boob tube.
Report by Dan Kapelovitz
Illustration by Danny Hellman
"Do you shave your balls, Peter?" Colin Malone, host of Colin's Sleazy Friends, asks his guest, porn stud Peter North. After North answers in the affirmative, fellow guest and XXX star Jewel De' Nyle says, "I like to stick the whole nut sac in my mouth."
"Who doesn't?" quips Malone, who proceeds to screen an X-rated clip from North Pole #7, in which two mechanics pull down De' Nyle's skintight minidress and suckle her silicone chest bags. One grease monkey massages the porn star's crotch.
Jewel De' Nyle replicates the raunchy action on Colin's live show, lifting her shirt, cupping her breasts and shaking them up and down. Peter North helps himself to one of De' Nyle's boobs and suctions a nipple into his mouth.
De'Nyle then bends over and pulls her pants around her knees, flashing the television audience with her snatch and cornhole. After North spanks De'Nyle's ass cheeks, she sits on his lap and masturbates.
At the end of the episode, North buries his face in De'Nyle's crotch. The porn slut wraps her feet over North's head; he spreads open her ass cheeks, exposing her anus to the camera while the closing credits roll.
Cable television originated in 1949 as a way for viewers in rural Lansford, Pennsylvania, to receive broadcast signals, but it wasn't until the early 1970s that public-access cable made its way into American living rooms. In a marketing scheme intended to drum up subscriptions to the new medium, cable stations offered viewers the chance to air their very own TV shows. By providing access to channel space and studio equipment to the general public, cable companies gave rise to some of the most inane, low-budget and outrageous programming to ever air on TV.
Today, nearly 70% of American homes subscribe to cable; so raising awareness is no longer a concern for cablecasters, but public-access TV is more popular, and more sexually explicit, than ever. Since the homemade programming is given a long regulatory leash, almost anything goes on local public-access programs.
"Some of my shows are way beyond what the Spice Channel shows," says Harley Fire, host of Harley's Video Party, which airs in Los Angeles and Manhattan. Fire has taped a segment featuring porn star Tony Montana receiving a blowjob from a trio of porn sluts.
"It's pretty hard-core," Fire says. "You're seeing open shots, you're showing a little masturbation—it's more in-your-face than it would be on the Playboy Channel."
Before pulling the plug on her own broadcasting career recently, Sandy Kane, a former Over 40 covergirl, routinely exposed her hefty breasts on her Manhattan-based Sandy Kane Blew Comedy Show. On a recent episode, Kane pulls down her velvet, leopard-skin bikini to reveal the "Howard Stern for Governor" stickers that cover her nipples; next, Kane activates a vibrator and slides the shaft between her floppy honkers. She then pulls down her hotpants and asks, "Who wants to smell my undies?"
As she does in almost every episode of her show, the raunchy entertainer breaks into song: "My underpants are brown, and my pussy's gray," Kane sings, then pulls her G-string to the side, revealing her hairy snatch. "I lied," she says.
At the end of the show, Kane bounces her breasts in time to a musical accompaniment, then bends over and sticks her dildo in her ass.
Another public access show broadcast in New York City, Sexy Soul/Black Erotica, mixes explicit strip-club footage with music videos. On one program, an Asian girl dances on a small stage, a green-mesh thong bikini wedged deep in her ass crack. The stripper turns around to show off her erect brown nipples, then swivels again, peels off her bikini bottoms, spreads her legs wide and lodges her fingers in her pussy. As a finale, the Asian minx slowly withdraws an impossibly long string of beads from her snatch.
The next guest on Sexy Soul/Black Erotica is a topless black dancer with gigantic hooters. At first the camera focuses on both mammoth mounds of flesh, but eventually one enormous udder fills the entire television screen. The dancer then lowers herself onto all fours with her shaved pussy aimed directly at the viewing audience.
Goddess Kring is a cable-access show that seeks to educate through nudity. Shannon Kringen was fired from a peep- show club in Seattle for being overweight; so she decided to bring her full-figured form to the local television screen. Kringen describes herself as "a political activist for freedom to be natural."
On a typical episode of Goddess Kring, Kringen dances in her apartment wearing nothing but green glitter lipstick on her mouth and nipples. She alternately lip syncs Tom Petty songs and hefts her breasts in front of the camera for lingering big-boob shots.
Kringen considers her show to be an example of "erotic performance art" that makes a statement about "full-figured beauty."
For Kringen, nudity serves more than just a political purpose; she knows that naked bodies attract viewers.
"I knew it would get people's attention," Kringen says. "Channel surfers would be like, 'Hey, what's that?' "
Not everyone appreciates Kringen's ideas about political expressiveness.
"My freedom is being challenged at the cable studio," Kringen claims. "Some conservatives are complaining about my nakedness on the air."
Goddess Kring may generate controversy, but Kringen's show is tame compared to the Jim Spagg Show, which airs in Portland, Oregon. In one episode, Spagg washed his uncircumcised penis in the shower.
"I'm showing people that when you're not circumcised, you have to wash your dick," Spagg explains. "You have to pull the skin back. The political people who saw this interpreted it as me masturbating. I wasn't masturbating. I was showing people how to wash my dick. I wasn't going back and forth; I was being educative.
"Simply stated, my shows are operating on two really simple ideas. One is that people are too busy and too serious, and the other is that nudity is not dirty," Spagg adds. "What I do on my show is, I show explicit nudity: close-up shots of genitals and tits and asses."
Spagg intercuts footage of himself and others dancing around naked in the studio with videotape of nude beaches, which, for Spagg, perfectly represent the ideas he's trying to pass on to his viewers.
"I like nude beaches, because when I say nudity is not dirty, I'm also saying you don't have to be beautiful to be naked," says Spagg, echoing a de facto rule of many public-access raunchmongers.
According to a 1996 Supreme Court decision (Denver Area Educational Telecommunications v. FCC), cable companies are not allowed to censor public-access shows unless a program contains material that is commercial, slanderous, threatening or obscene. At the same time, the high court doesn't grant cable operators immunity from obscenity charges, so many of the providers take measures to protect themselves—measures that may interfere with free speech.
"The Telecommunications Act of '96 makes the cable operator responsible for defining community standards," says Bill Rosendahl, vice president of operations for Adelphia of Southern California, a cable TV provider. "So the buck's been passed to the local cable operators because no one really wants to deal with those issues."
When he is concerned that a show might cross prosecutable lines, Rosendahl sends a tape to lawyers to determine whether or not to air it. "You could have 100 lawyers in a room and get 100 opinions," concedes Rosendahl. "The best censor is the person on the receiving end turning the dial or turning off the set."
Harley Fire, whose Harley's Video Party is routinely pre-screened by Adelphia for objectionable content, feels that he is being unfairly harassed.
"They try to get me for everything—any little thing they can use so they can pull it off [the air]," Fire says. "I try to fight with these people, but it's a pain in the ass. I can't invest all this time calling them six, seven times a week to find out why the show didn't play."
Anthony Riddle, the executive director of Manhattan Neighborhood Network, which transmits Sexy Soul/Black Erotica, monitors possible obscenityless stringently than Rosendahl. MNN does not pre-screen any of its shows for content that might offend the sensibilities of its subscribers, but the company will occasionally impose sanctions on a producer if a program is believed to go too far.
"We don't want to be the thought police," explains Riddle. "We don't think it's appropriate to look at every program and try to decide what's the community standard and what's not the community standard.
"We probably have the most liberal policies in the country regarding content," adds Riddle. "We really stick strictly to the [Supreme Court's] Miller test. It has to fail all three tests: [material is considered obscene if] it doesn't meet community standards; it treats sexual biological processes in a way that is patently offensive; and it doesn't have either scientific, educational, political or artistic merit. It has to fail all of those."
Because the Supreme Court's Miller v. California decision left it up to municipalities to determine what is obscene, the same program can receive different treatment in different cities.
The Dr. Susan Block Show, a Los Angeles-based cable program, has taped segments that feature extremely explicit sexual content.
"We deal with every aspect of sex on the show, from the mildest to the wildest," says Block, who interviews her guests while reclining in bed and wearing a push-up corset and garters. "One guest played the piano naked, and after that she very eloquently stuck her own fist up her ass. We also just aired a show that includes oral sex as well as intercourse. I've aired golden showers. I've aired all kinds of sex."
Block enjoys a relatively permissive atmosphere in Los Angeles, but in 1995 the producer and host of Infosex, a cable program that aired in Texas, were convicted on obscenity charges for cablecasting a graphic, three-minute safe sex segment.
Infosex, which aired after midnight, included a clip produced by the Gay Men's Health Crisis, a New York AIDS advocacy group, which showed men using condoms and having sex. An avalanche of complaints from subscribers prompted a grand jury in Travis County, Texas, to indict the show's producers for violating community standards and for recklessly displaying harmful material to minors. The two men were acquitted of the latter charge because the program was aired late at night with sufficient content warnings.
Texas and Los Angeles are a world apart in terms of cultural climate, but the way community standards are defined by cable operators can vary even within the same city. Harley Fire says that the cable company in Los Angeles's San Fernando Valley agreed to show a "large outdoor orgy," but the station manager in neighboring Santa Monica refused to air the same episode. Because the two cable systems border each other, one person would be allowed to see things that his next door neighbor wouldn't.
Without practicing outright censorship, cable companies can dramatically decrease a program's viewership if the show is deemed to be offensive.
"What they've been doing around the country is channel-slamming, and that's a huge issue for us," says Bunny Riedel of the Alliance for Community Media, a Washington-based group committed to assuring the broadest possible dissemination of electronic media, including public access TV. "That's basically where the cable operators come in and say, 'Look, we gotta have this channel, 'cause we're rearranging our line-up, blah blah blah,' and they'll take an access center that has been on Channel 6 or whatever for 15 years and slam it to the end of the spectrum in the 70s or 80s."
Until recently, Colin's Sleazy Friends aired on Channel 3, sandwiched between CBS and NBC.
"We put our show between Letterman and Leno because people flip through to check out the guests," says Colin Malone. "We knew that was going to be a hot place to be right around midnight, but now we're on 77, so you have to look for us."
According to Malone, Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan "saw a couple episodes of our show and flipped out. He couldn't believe the city was paying for this kind of programming."
The L.A. City Channel, the cable provider that aired Colin's Sleazy Friends, is owned by the city of Los Angeles. In order to continue to receive municipal funding, the L.A. City Channel was required to change to an educational format. Colin's Sleazy Friends had to go.
"I could argue for days that my show is educational," says Malone, "but I didn't feel like battling that one."
While Bunny Riedel feels that Colin's Sleazy Friends is educational only in a "gynecological sense," she believes the public access program was unfairly bullied from its high-profile broadcast spot.
"I want to know who the mayor thinks he is," says Riedel. "How dare he decide what's to be done with the public trust? Colin or no Colin, I think it was just unforgivable to unilaterally take away what belonged to the people of Los Angeles."
Mayor Riordan's office has failed to return repeated requests for comment.
Another way that cable companies can censor adult programming is by dictating what can and cannot be done at their facilities. Media One in Hollywood, for example, does not allow nudity in its studio.
"It's actually a workplace environment issue," insists Gissell Acevedo-Franco, Media One's director of corporate communications. "Is it appropriate or reasonable to subject our employees who might have a problem with nudity in the studio?
"It's not a First Amendment issue," Acevedo-Franco insists. "We're not violating the First Amendment, because if they want to tape it anywhere else, they're welcome to, and we still would air it. The issue is: Can we control the dress code in our facilities? Yes we can."
Even if a cablecaster can't censor a show, the company can demand that sexually explicit shows air late at night. Virgin Models, a public-access program based in Brooklyn, New York, features young women posing topless. Viewers can vote for their favorite models at www.virginmodels.com. Even though Virgin Models is little more explicit than a copy of Vogue, which is available at any supermarket checkout counter, the public-access program found itself banished to the wee hours of the morning by the cable company that controls its distribution.
Because of this practice, known as "safe harboring," even studios that technically allow nudity can make live shows impossible if guests want to take their clothes off.
Jim Spagg produces his adult show in a Portland, Oregon, studio that has no official opposition to nudity. "I'd like to do the nudity live," says Spagg. "But you have to show [adult-content programs] after 10 o'clock. And when the station found out that I was doing nudity, they conveniently decided to close the studio at 10 o'clock.
"There are a lot people who really think my show is great," Spagg adds. "There are probably a lot more people who hate it. They think kids are just gonna turn into perverts. They'll tell me they don't like my show, but they also will call the Mayor and the Governor and the police and the D.A."
Even discounting community-standards debates, the future of public access is uncertain—now that cable TV is a fixture in the majority of American homes, public access does not serve the bottom-line interests of cable companies.
"They would be just thrilled if we fell off the planet tomorrow," says Bunny Riedel. "The cable companies don't want to have to pay for this."
"Our preference would be not to have it," Media One's Gisselle Acevedo-Franco admits of public-access TV. "It's very costly, it's thousands and thousands [of dollars]."
Laura Linder, an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina and the author of Public Access Television: America's Electronic Soapbox, thinks it crucial that the channels of free speech remain open to the public.
"Public access is a public forum, and once you've created a pubic forum, you can't close it down because you don't like what they're doing," Linder says. "Public access came about because people thought it would be a good vehicle for social change, giving people a voice who didn't have a voice. Because it's very hard to get on regular television."
Because there are more 2,000 cable access centers, and together they produce over a million hours of programming each year (more than all of the broadcast networks combined), it is impossible to quantify all of the sexually explicit shows that air around the country. Some programs no longer exist on cable but are available from video collectors on the Internet, at sites such as www.blackestheart.com and www.splattermountain.com.
Some cable stations do not offer permanent time slots and some producers schedule shows sporadically; consequently, a program's Web site is often the best source for show times:
Colin's Sleazy Friends
The Jim Spagg Show
The Dr. Susan Block Show
(This article first appeared in the October 2000 issue of Hustler Magazine)
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