Clarence Fanto: Edict by CBS on wardrobes self-serving

Sunday February 10, 2013


Isn't it sweet to know that CBS execs have everyone bundled up for tonight's 55th annual Grammy awards ceremony in L.A? Or do they?

It really isn't about the quality of the music anymore at the Recording Academy's annual celebration of superstars who have struck a responsive chord with younger listeners. Instead, it's all about wardrobe and potential off-the-cuff bad language, not to mention violent lyrics typical of rap and hip-hop performers.

The CBS Standards and Practices department prepared a wardrobe advisory several days ago to make sure sleazy, sexploitative outfits inevitably on display fall within supposedly acceptable guidelines for family viewing. But after it leaked, CBS appeared to back-pedal, according to the Daily News of New York, whose source claimed the memo was never intended for distribution.

You'll recall that the network was fined $550,000 when Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" during the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show exposed too much skin. CBS spent even more in an eight-year legal battle against the reprimand.

Just last June, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to consider a Federal Communications Commission appeal of a lower court ruling that had overturned the government agency's fine on the grounds that the FCC guidelines were too vague. But Chief Justice John Roberts warned that since the FCC has tightened up on its specifics regarding indecent exposure, a comparable offense could be punished.

Reacting to the Roberts opinion, CBS stated that it has already taken preventative steps to put eight-second delays in live entertainment programs. Fine and dandy, but that didn't prevent the network from accidentally airing the f-word uttered by Baltimore Ravens winning MVP quarterback Joe Flacco last Sunday night during the team's on-field victory lap ("This is

- awesome!")

The supercharged halftime show by Beyonce and Destiny's Child, although malfunction-free, featured highly suggestive, sleazy gestures. It didn't blow the stadium's power (a faulty electrical relay switch did) but probably blew the minds of many viewers.

On to tonight's musical extravaganza, which not only triggered the network's wardrobe warning but also the following, as reported by the Hollywood website "The Network requests that any organized cause visibly spelled out on talent's wardrobe be avoided. This would include lapel pins or any other form of accessory."

As for wardrobe standards, the network memo stated: "Please be sure that buttocks and female breasts are adequately covered. Thong type costumes are problematic. Please avoid exposing bare fleshy under curves of the buttocks and buttock crack. Bare sides or under curvature of the breasts is also problematic. Please avoid sheer see-through clothing that could possibly expose female breast nipples. Please be sure the genital region is adequately covered so that there is no visible ‘puffy' bare skin exposure. Please avoid commercial identification of actual brand name products on T-shirts. Foreign language on wardrobe will need to be cleared."

The advisory also declared emphatically: Obscenity or partially seen obscenity on wardrobe is unacceptable for broadcast.

While trying to keep the Grammycast PG- rather than R-rated is a commendable goal, it rings rather hollow from the network that glorifies violence during its primetime lineup laden with police procedurals. Clearly, CBS is more concerned with avoiding another tussle with the FCC than with protecting viewers' sensibilities.

All of this is done by network execs with a wink, a nod and perhaps even a hope that a wardrobe malfunction does occur -- yielding millions of hits online -- while CBS still retains what Richard Nixon used to call "deniability."

The Daily News article, hypocritically replete with fleshy examples of suggestive wardrobes at previous awards telecasts, quoted an unnamed music industry bigwig: "Right, they're telling rock stars how to dress? Good luck with that." Frankly, when I watch tonight I'll be less concerned with the wardrobe issue than whether the performances are live, as they ought to be, or lip-synched. When I asked the Recording Academy recently whether the Grammys have a policy on this, the official response came via email:

"The Grammy Awards is where everyone brings their A-game and wants to give their best performance, especially among their peers. We strive to create an environment where artists feel comfortable and supported in all aspects of their performance, and we have found that artists prefer to take the opportunity to celebrate their nominations and their hard work by performing live on our stage."

Well, that settles it, doesn't it?

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