Redstone and CBS Back in a Political Tug of War at the Super Bowl
By Evan Weiner
January 30, 2010
(New York, N. Y.) --- Perhaps Sumner Redstone should just say no to the Super Bowl because it seems Redstone’s CBS television network is always involved in some controversy in the presentation of the Super Bowl. Redstone’s CBS is making news because the network has accepted money from a group that plans to air an anti-abortion commercial during next week’s game but at the same time has rejected an ad from ManCrunch, a gay dating website.
Redstone’s network released a statement explaining why CBS will not show the ad during the Super Bowl.
"After reviewing the ad - which is entirely commercial in nature - our Standards and Practices department decided not to accept this particular spot. As always, we are open to working with the client on alternative submissions," according to the CBS publicity department.
Too bad Redstone’s Standards and Practices department doesn’t review the Redstone-owned MTV show Jersey Shore or some of the other MTV shows that are loaded with sexual innuendos including promoting lesbianism. Redstone bowed to pressure from someone in rejecting the ManCrunch ad but Redstone, CBS President Les Moonvees and the rest of the CBS upper management has no problem with the Focus on the Family, Celebrate Family, Celebrate Life spot featuring college quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow.
Redstone’s CBS network enjoys a much higher profile than his ratings challenged MTV. Redstone apparently doesn’t care that the New Jersey Italian American Legislative Caucus asked his Viacom company to take Jersey Shore off the air. In a letter to Redstone and Viacom, caucus chairman Joseph Vitale said the show is "wildly offensive."
Jersey Shore is just a cable TV show, nothing more, nothing less on a network that produces minimal ratings. The Super Bowl is American television’s biggest event and Redstone is going to get protests from various groups over his or someone at CBS decisions to air one spot and decline another spot.
Redstone and CBS may have made their commercial decisions with the 2004 Super Bowl in mind. Redstone and CBS had the television rights to the game and Redstone’s MTV cable network produced the halftime show.
The Super Bowl XXXVIII did not start well for political activitists as CBS rejected an ad from the political group, MoveOn.org called “Bush in 30 seconds” under a network policy that apparently dated back to when William Paley owned the network “controversial issues of public importance.”
No one seems to remember that New England beat Carolina in that game but people do remember that the singer Janet Jackson’s breast popped out of her clothes due to what fellow singer Justin Timberlake called a wardrobe malfunction during halftime of that game.
Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” lasted scant seconds but it set off a political firestorm even though very few people actually witnessed the event live on TV and it wasn’t until people who TiVo’ed the show and got a glimpse of the “wardrobe malfunction.” The MTV produced halftime show also featured the singer Nelly gesturing towards his crotch and the singer Kid Rock wearing a poncho made from an American flag. There were also a number of strange commercials during the presentation including a guaranteed a cure for erectile dysfunction, and two beer commercials, one of which featured a horse that suffered from flatulence and another that had a dog attacking male genitalia.
Immediately Republican members of Congress jumped into the halftime show “costume malfunction” and some House members stood on the steps in front of the Capitol criticized CBS and the NFL the morning after. Zell Miller, a Democrat from Georgia, took to the Senate floor and took aim at the halftime show saying something about how the “wardrobe malfunction” was a sign or declining morality in America. Political groups seized the incident to gain exposure and the Federal Communications Commission levied a $550,000 fine against Redstone, CBS and 20 TV stations because of the halftime show. FCC fines would rise as a result of the incident from $27,500 to $325,000 per incident.
In Canada, where Global TV used the CBS feed, there were a few complaints but the CTRC let the matter go. The game was televised globally and the “costume malfunction” seemed not to be a problem.
There were other ramifications from the Jackson “costume malfunction.” The NFL decided the halftime show needed a change and “safe” acts were hired beginning in 2005. Those acts included the Beatles Paul McCartney who spent nine days in jail in Japan for possessing marijuana, the Rolling Stones, a group that featured Keith Richards who was busted on a heroin charge in Canada in 1977 and this year, The Who, a group who had two members die of apparent drug use, Keith Moon and John Entwhistle will perform.
MTV was fired as the halftime producer.
Additionally, the NFL dropped Levitra as the league’s erectile dysfunction advertising partner in 2007 and Anheuser-Busch promised it would never make commercial that featured a horse suffering from flatulence or a dog nipping at a male’s crouch or similar commercials ever again.
Television (and radio) also took steps to clean up shows. In 2005, the National Basketball Association suggested to the singer Beyonce Knowles to sing Crazy in Love rather than Naughty Girl at the NBA All-Star Game. Live programming was put on a delay just in case something went awry. The halftime show also impacted network TV soap operas, and award shows such as the Grammy’s and the Academy Awards. Sixty-five ABC TV stations were so concerned about the newly found “indecency” issue that they refused to show the networks presentation of the moving “Saving Private Ryan” because on Valentine’s Day 2004 because of the film’s violence.
Over-the-air TV and radio are subjected to FCC laws, cable TV is not. The American public owes the airwaves, Redstone is merely a steward who oversees a network and network owned and operated TV stations in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia and other cities.
The halftime incident became a political campaign issue. Jackson and Timberlake are still big names in the music industry globally even though they set off a political firestorm in 2004.
Redstone and CBS are still fighting the FCC fines.
The Super Bowl has been sanitized as much as possible because of a less than three second incident in 2004. Redstone and CBS will now face a maelstrom of protests from the left because of their decisions to say yes to Focus on the Family’s spot and no to ManCrunch.
The Super Bowl, which was born in Senate and House chambers in the summer and fall of 1966 as the result of Congress giving the go ahead to the merger of the National Football League and the American Football League, is a potent political force. Arizona now celebrates Martin Luther King Day because the NFL wanted to put the Big Game in Tempe and was forced to pull it from Tempe in 1993 after Arizona refused to recognize the day. The NFL awarded Tempe the game in 1996 after Arizona voters said yes to making Martin Luther King Day a state holiday. The NFL rewards cities that build stadiums with a Super Bowl and the 2004 game changed TV.
Redstone and CBS had the 2004 game and they have it this year and the Redstone and the CBS commercial decisions have ignited political debate. Welcome back to the Super Bowl Sumner Redstone, Les Moonvees and CBS.