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Leering At Lear?

Fear of some Washington regulator trying to prevent viewers from leering at Lear in his birthday suit was apparently on display in L.A. over the weekend as critics were pitched new shows from TV networks.

PBS is airing the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of King Lear, which features Ian McKellan brieflynaked as the mad king strips himself of his garments.

Whether PBS would show the nudity became the center of some back-and-forth, according to reports that had PBS President Paula Kerger skirting the issue and saying it would depend on what they decided and what the FCC would allow.

The FCC does not prescreen shows, but it frowned on some partial frontal nudity in NYPD Blue to the tune ofseven figures, so that might provide some guidance.

But PBS caught some FCC flak for its blues documentary from Martin Scorcese while ABC aired Private Ryanwithout incident, so anticipating the FCC from precedent is a dicey exercise. Thatis why some PBS stationsblurred the naughty bits from art deco statues in Antiques Roadshow in the wake of the Janet Jackson fine.

But while TV critics are talking about Ian McKellan, I want to talk about Valerie Perrine. The exchange with Kerger over the weekend reminded me of that iconic PBS show of the early 1970’s, Steambath, which featured naked male backsides and a topless Valerie Perrine if memory serves me. The YouTube video has been scrubbed of the Perrine shower scene.

I am told by someone who should know is that the reason that show disappeared from the noncommercial airwaves was an FCC complaint about the nudity at the time that chilled the stations.

So, while I will await the unveiling of Ian McKellan, I mourn the years that the FCC’s content control scared stations away from a top-notch teleplay that I will wager did more to get adolescent boys interested in public television than any other show.

John Eggerton
John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.