Stephen Colbert, Hugh Laurie read the words you can say on cable, but not network TV

A very funny clip of Stephen Colbert and Hugh Laurie reading a list of approved words that you can say on broadcast cable, but not network television.

Stephen Colbert and Hugh Laurie on broadcast indecency standards

Apparently, the television broadcast television networks have asked for an exemption to – or an outright change in – the “decency” rules that forbid them from saying certain things that are fine to say on cable TV.  The TV networks argue that cable has an unfair advantage.  And they’re not entirely wrong.  While perhaps it could once have been argued that cable TV was some kind of premium fare that shouldn’t face the same regulations are regular TV, I’m no longer convinced of the difference.

More than 90% of American households reportedly pay for television, according to the NYT.  Though, interestingly, more and more people are starting to pare back:

More than 90 percent of American households pay for TV, according to Nielsen. But by the end of the year, an estimated 4.7 million American households that previously paid for TV will have cut the cord, or about 4.7 percent of all subscribers, up from about 3.74 million in 2012, according to a recent report by the Convergence Consulting Group, a Toronto-based firm.

It’s an interesting prospect.  Either give up cable TV entirely, and use Netflix, Amazon Prime, iTunes to get favorite shows from about $25 a season.  Or at least pare back to the most basic of basic – maybe get CNN and the main networks if you have to follow breaking news, which is the case for most Washingtonians (in politics at least), and then buy the rest on iTunes.  Considering the exorbitant amount Comcast and others charge, all of your favorite series combined might add up to one or two months of your entire cable bill. I’ll have to definitely run the numbers on this at some point.

Getting back to the issue of “decency” standards.  Here’s more from

Companies say that the rules are too vague, that they clash with broadcasters’ First Amendment rights, and that parents can control what their kids watch.

But ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC also say that rules are archaic because the networks have lost so much cultural clout.

Fox says in an FCC filing, “Americans today, including children, spend more time engaged with non-broadcast channels delivered by cable and satellite television, the Internet, video games and other media than they do with broadcast media.”

In a separate filing, NBCUniversal observes that ”Broadcast TV is not a uniquely pervasive presence in the lives of 21st Century Americans.” Broadcast network affiliates’ total day share of viewing “was just 28 percent in the 2010-2011 television season – compared to the 53 percent viewing share held by ad-supported cable programming networks.”

CBS also notes that “the day when a child watching television was almost certain to be watching broadcast television has long since passed.”

This all seems to be part of a larger review of decency standards taking placed at the FCC.

Here are Stephen Colbert and Hugh Laurie, they’re quite funny:

Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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14 Responses to “Stephen Colbert, Hugh Laurie read the words you can say on cable, but not network TV”

  1. mark_in_toronto says:

    Paying for something that used to be totally free? How unusual.
    I remember when movie theatre lobbies had petitions to fight “pay TV.”
    Little did we know . . .

  2. Zorba says:

    Thank you, Becca. This is exactly how I feel. Most of the “banned” words, the kids have already heard on the playgrounds and just hanging around with their friends.
    But the graphic violence is okay? Something is wrong here. I would much rather have kids see a nipple, or hear some “adult” language, than witness the fictional or real violence that passes for “entertainment.”
    Words are just words. Tits (can we say that here?) and nudity are supposed to be so awful. But shooting people, beating people up, whatever, is just fine?

  3. Ginger_FL says:

    If I have to sit through all these Cialias commericals where they talk about a 4 hour boner….then they should be able to say Sh*t and F*ck on TV. Why not, they’re just words and the latter is often used as a Noun, Pronoun, verb and adjective by most americans ;-)

  4. BeccaM says:

    Oh yes — loved French and Saunders.

    Maybe it’s just me, but I find British comedy shows much more enjoyable than their American counterparts.

  5. Monoceros Forth says:

    Indeed. There seems to be a tradition of sketch comedy in the UK that we’ve never really developed here. They’ve had many duos of clever comedic actors: Fry and Laurie, French and Saunders, Harry and Paul. It’s difficult to think of any American equivalent at all.

  6. BeccaM says:

    What’s incredibly sad is there are words you cannot say on TV simply because they’re crude or refer to sexual functions or genitalia, or some or all of the above, and a ‘wardrobe malfunction’ results in large fines, yet the average kid can easily witness hundreds of instances of graphic murders, assaults, and violence — both fictional and real — long before they’re adults, yet this isn’t seen as perverse or morally wrong.

  7. BeccaM says:

    Sometimes when I need my faith in humanity to be renewed, I will watch old episodes of “A Bit of Fry and Laurie,” starring Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie.

    Sublime and deliciously witty comedy, almost none of it lowbrow.

  8. Monoceros Forth says:

    Ah, it’s nice to be reminded that Hugh Laurie is much more than some emotionally stunted fake doctor.

  9. perljammer says:

    In general, they don’t. Of course, they also don’t know how many justices sit on the Supreme Court, or the name of the vice president of the US, or how many Senators and Representatives make up the US Congress, and a lot of them have trouble locating (name of random country) on a world globe. But they can text at 50 words per minute and they’re adept at social networking, so it’s not all bad.

  10. emjayay says:

    Well, I know what network TV is. One of the networks is PBS. Another one has Modern Family and The Middle. Also there’s those late night talk shows.

    Most people spending all that money for cable probably don’t know that with digital TV, you either get a perfect picture and sound or not. No snowy image in marginal areas, no interference. So in a vast majority of areas you can get the networks for free with rabbit ears, the old antenna on the roof or in the attic, or one of the new small flat panel antennas (cooler than rabbit ears but about the same).

    Most Americans I suppose really pay for cable to get ESPN, and the others to watch Mad Men or Breaking Bad etc. If you don’t need to keep up with the current Mad Mens etc., you can get them for free on DVDs from your local public library a few later on and that way you also get commentary tracks.

    Rachel Maddow and Hardball and All In and the Last Word are available on the internet the next day.

  11. therling says:

    “There are 400,000 words in the English
    language, and there are seven you can’t say on television. What a ratio
    that is! 399,993 to 7. They must really be baaaad!”~ George Carlin.

  12. cole3244 says:

    in con america words (knowledge) can hurt you but sticks & stones (violence) can’t, sounds upside down to me but then again i’m not a con.

  13. A_nonymoose says:

    Yeah, let the networks say a few more dirty words — that’ll save em! /Snark

  14. milli2 says:

    Does anyone under 20 even know what network tv is?

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