The Show With No Home
The current antsiness among broadcasters nails a local favorite
"Janet Jackson's boob claims another casualty." That was the online conclusion of Charlie Sotelo, host of the Austin cable access talk-show comedy The Show With No Name, after it was yanked from its weekly replay spot on the Austin Music Network March 27. SWNN, as it's known to fans, features archival or obscure film, video, and television clips interspersed with viewer calls and sarcastic banter from Sotelo and his engineer/sidekick, seen from behind at his soundboard and known only as "Cinco." As Sotelo recounted the incident in a later note to fans, "During the broadcast of last Saturday's show on the Austin Music Network, General Manager Louis Meyers received several calls of concern about the content of that show, including one from the office of an unnamed Austin City Council member. So in light of the current moral flinchiness, the program was pulled off the air in mid-broadcast and replaced with a program about Johnny Cash (who, by the way, has never been considered offensive)."
According to Meyers, that Sunday night he was en route to Giddings when he received three or four calls on his cell phone from AMN viewers concerned about the content of the show "not because they objected to it personally, but because they were alarmed that it might be over the edge" of what is permissible under the network's contractual relationship with the city of Austin, AMN's major underwriter. That relationship was strained recently because of objections by Mayor Will Wynn and others to certain political ads broadcast on the station, as well as the sexual content of some music videos. "The people in the music community are not squeamish about that stuff," said Meyers, "but they're friends of the station, and they don't want to see it harmed" by the controversy. Meyers says that under a system he has set up at the station, "I called master control and told them to go to commercial, and the show was pre-empted on the spot." He emphasized that no one told him to pull the show "It was a pre-emptive action."
To a casual TV viewer, the SWNN episode in question an edited rerun of a show that was produced for cable Channel 10 in February was fairly mild on the outrage meter, about the level of a Mad TV sketch. There was a heavily censored clip ("edited for common decency") from the Japanese martial-arts flick The Concubines, an old Beatles cartoon, an endless space-landing parody (featuring numerous "shit" jokes), even a rescored Peanuts cartoon, while Sotelo mixed himself a couple of real or imaginary martinis. Two segments may have set off audience alarms: a brief clip from the intro to a porn film featuring an actress fully clothed that the viewer who submitted it claimed looked like Sotelo and a conversation between Sotelo and a caller about the once-rampant Austin rumors concerning Gov. Perry's sex life (ancient history by March). As Sotelo wrote of the porn clip, "We showed just enough to see the girl and to set up a shot of my head superimposed on her body, which I assure you is a wildly original gag."
Meyer says now that the callers were "friends of the station" who had no objections to any particular element of the show, but feared it might lend ammunition to those who want the city to shut down AMN (currently funded from a portion of the city's hotel-motel tax). He says that as far as he knows, no council members generated the calls, although he did have a conversation afterward with John Stephens of the city manager's office. Stephens says he doesn't remember discussing this particular show, but that "we look for [AMN] to make the call, and Louis has always been very responsive, and responded appropriately."
Meyers says he's set up a system to pre-screen all materials AMN broadcasts, but "with 30,000 clips in the library, sometimes something unacceptable gets through" and his last resort is pulling a clip off the air. "I have to do it maybe once a week, or four times a month," Meyers said. "Sometimes it's one too many 'fucks' in a film, but the political stuff can be more sensitive than the sex and drinking. We can't use the airwaves to make a political statement." He says the network is consciously attempting to reach out to a wider audience, especially among teenagers, and, "We don't want parents to have to block the channel we want to be kid-friendly."
With that in mind, Meyers says he hopes to reprogram SWNN for a later time slot, "maybe by May 1, certainly by June 1." "We love the show," he said, "and it's hugely popular." Sotelo confirms that he got a lot more response from the AMN rebroadcasts, and he'd be glad to return. "I'm not completely broken up about it," Sotelo said, "because I still have the cable access show [Channel 10, Sunday nights, 10pm]. But if Louis gives the word, we're ready to go."