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FCC Access Hearings Held In A Marx Bros. Stateroom

There is a scene in the Marx Bros.' MGM classic A Night at the Opera where a shipboard stateroom gets increasingly filled with people until nobody can move and they eventually spill out the door under pressure of all those bodies.

That flurry of activity in tight quarters was re-created at the Federal Communications Commission's hearings on program carriage complaints over the past two weeks, held in a small hearing room - seating for about 40 - just off the FCC's main lobby.

At one point during the first hearing, on the NFL Network v. Comcast complaint, lawyers kept pouring in, navigating around stacks of dozens of evidence boxes and scores of binders three or four inches thick apiece on every available horizontal space. Meanwhile, reporters jockeyed for position in a game of musical chairs with interested observers and even more lawyers, avoiding easels, or stepping over six-packs of bottled water, dogging serious briefcases while evidence posters were passed overhead.

It was slightly less crowded last week as WealthTV took on the massed legal power of Comcast, Cox Communications, Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks in its own program-access complaint hearing, with a fraction of the evidence boxes, but more lawyers.

WealthTV executive Robert Herring had many of his exhibits thrown out, and his son, Charles, had to resubmit his testimony to avoid rules against hearsay.

Despite the pressure-packed process of trying to come up with exhibits and testimony that passed muster with the judge and opposing council, Herring maintained his sense of humor.

Father and son were passing through the FCC metal detectors, with Charles carrying large posters - exhibits 1, 2, and 3 he told The Wire - when it became obvious the posters weren't going to fit on the belt. That's OK, said the security guard, I'll inspect it personally.

"We've been trying to get somebody to look at these," Robert Herring joked.