Access Denied

Access Denied
By Jason Stout

Charlie Sotelo's ACAC program The Show With No Name has long been one of the flagship shows on Austin's access television, and certainly one of the most original to come out of local TV in years. Its eclectic mix of obscure film clips, old commercials, and Bill Hicks arcana is uniquely Austin, and caters to a wide mix of viewers, from the city's massive filmmaking community to stoned late-night viewers with little else to do but call Sotelo and co-host/engineer Cinco and volley epithets at the pair.

If you've never seen the show, however, you're temporarily out of luck, as ACAC officially suspended the program June 9, citing a violation of the station's ironclad noncommercialism policy. Following the airing of an old Nike shoe commercial directed by a young David Fincher (Fight Club, The Game) -- shown as part of the show's June 4 episode -- ACAC executive director John Villareal and the ACAC board of directors suspended the show for 90 days. Viewers who tuned in to Channel 16 at 10pm on Sunday, June 11, found an archival ACAC program running in The Show With No Name's slot, and no mention of what had happened to the beloved program.

The Nike spot in question was for a line of shoes that is no longer being manufactured, and had the company logo edited out. One of ACAC's chief points of contention, however, sprung from co-host Cinco's facetious exhortation to "Buy these shoes!" that closed the segment (and the show).

To fans of the show, the Fincher segment had nothing to do with peddling overpriced footwear and everything to do with the questionable ethics of Yoko Ono, who had sold the right to former husband John Lennon's tune "Instant Karma" for use as background music in the commercial. Clearly, however, ACAC failed to get the joke, or even crack a smile, and has since upheld the suspension in the face of two appeals from Sotelo and a barrage of positive feedback from viewers and fans of the program.

"Charlie's appeal was my decision," allows Villareal, "and I decided against suspending [the appeal], so now it's in the hands of the board of directors for ACAC. I can't speak for them, obviously -- they're a body of individual contributors to this organization; however, there was a consensus on the board that there was an error in judgment on Charlie's part. And the only remedy that the rules provide is that 90-day suspension. So that's what we currently have to uphold."

In his appeal, Sotelo argues that ACAC's noncommercialism rules only apply in cases of sponsorship, and are not written to apply to program content. If the suspension is upheld, fans of the show won't see Sotelo and his program back on the air before Sept. 7, and even then the return of The Show With No Name is in question. The now-vacant Sunday night slot that Sotelo occupied is likely to be filled by the time the suspension plays out, leaving Sotelo with the option of finding a new slot or hanging it up for good, neither of which currently appeals to the host, who wants to keep his show on the air one way or the other.

Noting that Sotelo's suspension wasn't the only one to occur recently, Villareal says that the ACAC board is currently reviewing the possibility of amending the standing rules to allow for less stringent penalties in cases such as Sotelo's.

"Public Access wants people to put their programs on the air," he says. "As a rule, we don't permanently ban anybody. Commercialism is a real hot topic because it's an item that we have to watch per our contract, and it's the one item that could cause us to lose our contract right away, so that's why there's this zealous effort to make sure this doesn't happen. We've always said that there's zero tolerance towards commercialism."

That may be so, but Sotelo's suspension has clearly struck a minor chord with his legions of fans. Casey Monahan of the Texas Music Office has been watching the show religiously for more than two years and finds ACAC's actions in the matter unfathomable.

"Charlie's show represents all that is great about access TV," says Monahan, speaking for himself and not for the state music office, "and it's a shame that he was suspended for critiquing a director's style. It's one of the only shows that I wait to see and one of the only shows that I never miss. You never know what you're going to see, but at the same time you trust Charlie to take you to a new place. It might just be the best thing on Austin television."

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