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Video: Lorne Michaels Worried About FCC Reaction to Live F-Bomb on This Past Saturday’s ‘SNL’

Sep 28, 2009  •  Post A Comment

Jenny Slate, in her debut on “Saturday Night Live,” dropped an F-bomb. The show’s longtime executive producer, Lorne Michaels, feels terrible for her, but what worries him is the reaction of the Federal Communications Commission, Michaels told Tom Shales of theWashington Post.

According to the article, ” 1It has to be an actor’s worst nightmare,’ Michaels said. ‘Your first time on ‘Saturday Night Live’ and this happens. You could sense the mortification in the studio.’ Michaels noted that there’s been ‘so much government scrutiny’ of TV in recent years — sparked largely by Janet Jackson’s ‘wardrobe malfunction’ during halftime at the Super Bowl in 2004 — that he is somewhat worried about the aftermath.”

Some observers told TVWeek that since the inadvertant F-bomb was uttered at 12:43 am (ET), that it would likely be far less of an issue than had it been earlier in the day. In time zones where “SNL” is not shown live, the word was bleeped.

Also, according to the Post article, “SNL” “does not use a so-called ‘seven-second delay’ to prevent any unplanned utterances from going out on the air. ‘We’ve used an honor system,’ Michaels said, ‘and pretty much everyone has played by it forever.’

An F-bomb as was also dropped on “SNL” in 1981, at a time when Michaels was not producing the show.

43 Comments

  1. I’m french and honestly, Americans seems totaly ridiculous with this type of story. Oh no ! The F-word has been pronounced on TV ! It’s so horrible.
    Completely stupid. fortunately in France it’s not like this and even more, entire nudity can be shown on TV at any time (some french commercials could never be aired in the US !).
    However (and it’s more logical I think) violence is far more restricted in France than in the US where you can see violent crime scene at 8pm or 9pm.

  2. Boby, our country is not France. Quite frankly, what you do is irrelevant to this story. France has plenty of problems we don’t have, so maybe you can take your haughty attitude somewhere else.

  3. I can’t believe SNL was so arrogant and stupid as to not embrace the 7-second delay. It’s not about the honor system. It’s about mistakes. We can all agree and disagree about the appropriatness of the words used, but if SNL doesn’t want to get into a war with the FCC, they should have been more prudent by understanding that anything can happen on a live show.

  4. You don’t have to be French to consider this a waste of our government’s time and resources — and way, WAY out of synch with “community standards.”
    Even if you believe that the broadcast audience deserves regular protection from naughty words that isn’t required by any other communication medium, it’s still far-fetched to contend that accidental “fleeting” expletives justify millions of dollars in (aggregate) fines.
    Sensible people on all parts of the political spectrum must demand sensible compromise on this issue and not leave it in the hands of extreme puritans or libertarians.

  5. It’s about the talent and management on the show that needs to understand that they are not on stage at some comedy club or on HBO’s Def Comedy Jam in the 1990’s and able to spew the words you would see so often in such venues. Jenny should have been told about the responsibility for the network as a whole and not just about some once a week show where she thinks you can do all and be all with no backlash. This is serious for all working on the show. Remember they are comedians and if you have ever worked with comedians you understand that you’re not dealing with Wharton grads and that you as a producer must set the bar day one. There’s no excuse. And for the French guy let’s all remember that France is the country that is now protecing, supporting and defending one of theirs,Roman Polanski, who fled the U.S. as a rapist of a 13 year old underage minor so comparison of our system of right and wrong with the French holds no foundation.

  6. The ‘F-bomb’ is so commonly used that I don’t think anyone is bothered by it much anymore. However, I’d agree it should not be used on the air. If I were Lorne Michaels, I’d go to the ’7 second’ delay immediately for all future shows. An honor system is fine, but its too chancy, especially on a comedy like SNL. Even legitimate local news shows have had moments when an expletive made it out over the airwaves. But its simply not worth the risk to the network, o&o’s and affiliates to tempt the fate with the FCC and fines. Why risk it Lorne?
    – Andrew, MALL727.net –

  7. That’s really enlightening – thanks for sharing that insight. What does it say about our country with it’s Puritan beginnings and yet volience is acceptable form of entertainment. And so applause goes to those insular why-don’t-you-go-back-to-your-country types who’d rather attack a different point of view rather than ask why no other country sees the level of criminal violence than the U.S. Hey – good for us. We’re $@#* Number One!

  8. realtvcritics.com,
    You may not have seen it, but she was doing a sketch with Megan Fox and Kristen Wiig where they were constantly using the word “frigging”. She clearly slipped up (her face said it all) and was careful about it the rest of the sketch. “Explaining it to her” wasn’t the issue. I realize that it’s inevitable that they’ll be fined, but I really don’t think it’s that big of a deal. SNL needs more attention, and they’be gotten it. NBC should be happy.

  9. Bill –
    Thanks for reinforcing the xenophobic attitude so much of the world associates with the U.S. What, a foreign perspective on this story is irrelevant, because you deem France to be beneath you? I’m sure that the world is perfect inside your little insulated bunker. Meanwhile, the French have a pretty good idea it seems with regard to keeping more of the violent content off TV at earlier hours (the edgy ads are another matter.)
    One of the best broadcasters anywhere, the BBC, is foreign – I guess they’re irrelevant too – after all, Britain has “plenty of problems.” Personally, I agree with Robert. Human error will burn you every time, best intentions notwithstanding. We have the technology and should use it.

  10. I wrote this a year and a half ago.
    We are in two wars and the country is rapidly sinking yet we (NBC) is worried about an expletive.
    SAD!
    Posted March 8, 2008 | 08:17 AM (EST)
    ——————————————————————————–
    As almost everyone knows Waldo can be anywhere on a page in your “Where’s Waldo?” book. If you’re having a hard time finding Waldo, don’t worry, you are not alone.
    Fining Waldo has been a challenge for children and grown ups for a very long time, but I want to suggest a new game for “grown ups” that we call “Find the Violation, (FTV).”
    The first part of our “FTV game is to ask you to identify which of the following violates any FCC regulation as it might pertain to depicting a bare behind, male or female.
    In all situations, remember the existence of a Vchip in all sets sold since 2000, more or less as well as parental warnings.
    In a book directed to children
    In a book directed at adults
    In a newspaper
    In National Geographic
    In Newsweek
    On Broadcast Television at 5am with a parental warning
    In the New York Times
    On Broadcast Television at 5am without a parental warning
    On the Discovery Channel at Noon with a parental warning
    On PBS at 11pm without a parental warning
    On HBO at noon with a parental warning
    On Broadcast Television at 10pm with a parental warning
    On MSNBC at 8pm without a parental warning
    On the Hallmark Channel at 5pm without a parental warning
    On the Playboy Channel at any hour?
    On a highway billboard?
    Give yourself two points for every violation that you find. If your total is more then six, you are in big trouble.
    Ready with an answer as yet?
    Did you FTV?
    There should be a drum roll here please:
    NONE of the depictions of a bare “ass” given above is a violation of the FCC rules.
    However, notwithstanding any parental warning or the existence of the v-chip technology, the FCC will issue draconian fines for the depiction of a bare behind on broadcast television between the hours of 6am and 10pm.
    In other words, when your kids get tired of trying to Find Waldo, and are desirous of seeing a naked behind between the hours of 6am and 10pm, tell them that they should most certainly not tune into Broadcast television, but watch only cable content.
    As a child growing up I was denied pictures of naked women and had it not been for National Geographic I would not have known why women had “bulges” above the waist that most men did not have.
    My friends and I would look at pictures of bare breasted black women in National Geographic and wonder if white women had breasts as well.
    Do you think that is why I still subscribe to National Geographic?
    Watch these pages for Part Two of our FTV series. `
    If you failed this FTV test, you should be forced to program the V-chip that is included in your television set.
    Norman Horowitz
    Still Looking for Waldo
    ——————————————————————————–

  11. Oh, come on–that sketch was MADE for a blooper. How often could any of those actresses have repeated ‘freak’, ‘freakin” etc at the speed they were going without making the bomb. SNL has historically pushed envelopes and I believe the writers were consciously pushing this one.
    To me it was more amazing that she didn’t fall apart with laughter nor did her cast mates. They just finished the sketch. AND I had to do a double take and think if I actually heard what I thought I heard. It wasn’t as big a deal as the guy on the news show.

  12. The violence verses words debate is obvious, but I think that loss to our expeience is great when almost nothing is live.
    That a few thousand Eastern zone people still awake at almost 1 A.M. heard a word that is commonly used on every other channel on the cable except the other three networks is a poor excuse to get rid of one of the last truly live experiences still available.

  13. America isn’t the only country that cringes when it hears the F word which prompts its defenders of morality to act. On November 13, 1965 British theater critic Kenneth Tynan shocked the nation when he let loose the F bomb on a late night BBC satirical comedy show. This was the first time the word had been uttered on British TV. The resulting scandal made him even more famous but forced the BBC to issue an apology and prompted four censure motions in Parliament. It was part of Tynan’s desire to upend censorship restrictions. While community standards have changed the BBC is still skittish about the use of that loaded word and others. But the definition of what’s proscribed is wider than the FCC’s. In the UK offensive language is joined by depictions of violence, sex, sexual violence, humiliation, distress, violation of human dignity, discriminatory treatment or language (for example on the grounds of age, disability, gender, race, religion, beliefs and sexual orientation. But the issue of “context” is more nuanced than our simple application of time of day or our three-tiered designations of obscene, indecent or profane. It’s a slippery slope that a 7 second delay, bleep switch, would avoid but the arguments will continue. The question is; should an accidental bleeting by a nervous actor making their debut on SNL be punished? Of course, not.

  14. I think the solution is obvious.
    The FCC needs to simply tell NBC they can either:
    1) Pay an excessive fine, or
    2) Apologize and put SNL on a delay from now on.
    It’s only arrogance that prevents all networks from using a delay on live broadcasts and certainly there was no shocked reaction from Kristin Wiig when the comment was made, indicating it may have even been rehearsed that way.
    Once again, there’s no technical reason for SNL to not be on a delay, not to mention awards shows. It’s only pure arrogance on the part of broadcasters and/or a desire to be “edgy.”
    Every talk radio station in the country uses a delay; why not live television broadcasts?

  15. No one would know the difference between live and “live on a delay” so I don’t buy the argument that it would eliminate the “truly live” experience of the show, something half of the country has never had to begin with.

  16. Kate,
    Many of the employees here were former network employees. CBS, NBC and all the way back to Westinghouse Broadcasting and further back to Metromedia Radio in the 1970’s. There used to be a standard when you walked in to one of these so called institutions of broadcasting that you held yourself at a higher standard than everyone around you in the media business. At CBS you understood what those three letters meant when you were there as an employee and when you left at the end of the day. You were an employee of CBS. 24/7/365. That was expected and that’s what you were TOLD was expected of you. That was the ‘ego’ you carried when you worked for that organization. Today, those standards aren’t taught day one. It’s just a free fall into an abyss that makes the shows bigger than the networks. On that day, and the day has come in both TV and radio, you enjoy the mess we have now. Low ratings, users of both media going elsewhere for entertainment and FCC violations for everything said and done which turns viewers off. Class. That’s the word. Class. Day one you learned it and there was no excuse for violating it. Those standards and communicating the importance of those standards to ‘comedians’ are no longer present today and the media world is suffering because of it.

  17. Yeah, keep chiming in Bill, I don’t think the rest of us has heard enough of you, yet.
    This was an honest mistake, blown out of proportion, and adding a 7-second delay will take the “live” right out of “Saturday Night Live”.
    There’s a very good reason why talk radio stations use a delay. It’s in case lunatic callers get on the air and say whatever crazy thing pops into their heads (expletives, and all). You can’t really compare a show like SNL to that.

  18. You know, I went to the realcritics.com website to read their write-up of the SNL-Slate-F-bomb brouhaha, which included the following line: “The left coast didn’t get to hear the miff”… I think the word they want is “muff,” but OH NO!, “muff” has another – potentially dirty – meaning, so best not to use it… and thanks, realcritics.com, for protecting the freakin’ eyes and ears of us the rest of us

  19. If tomorrow the FCC ruled that “arrogance” was a dirty word, our friend “Bill” would have to come up with a different term with which to render his moral judgments

  20. also, I’ve been to France, it’s awesome! Yes, there are sexy adverts, and some racy if not raunchy television programs, but, somehow, society still seems to function there; people go to work, raise kids, live and love, and enjoy themselves. So enough with the Francophobia!

  21. Hey Matt. So that you have a clear understanding of ‘who’ our site is reaching out to with respect to users, let me tell you. Our target user is Women 18 to 49 years of age, skewing a bit more tightly to Women 25 to 44 years of age. Soccer Moms. The consumers that advertising agencies wish to reach out to with their advertising message. We in fact had several conversations as to whether we were actually going to run the story because some felt the content may be offensive to our user and more important to our effort in getting advertisers to want to use our site. TMZ.com,, which we actually consider a really good site, has a very difficult time getting advertisers because of their content. Procter and Gamble does not want to associate their brand with such content. Yet TMZ has very deep pockets of ownership there and no need to be cognizant of advertiser backlash when a story of poor taste is put on that site. We, as the background of many working here, tend to take the high ground. We have standards here and those standards will be upheld to not deter our readers and advertisers. Now you being male of course won’t agree. But after many years of working for very upscale TV shows and radio stations let me make this clear. You make more money with upscale users than those who watch Jerry Springer or listen to Howard Stern. In fact let’s take the content at Fox News Channel with Glenn Beck and you will see the importance of making sure what you present to your users doesn’t deter advertisers from using your outlet.
    Bottom line, remembering our user, soccer Moms, core demographic, Women 25 to 44 years of age, we will take the extra step and use miff instead muff so that we keep them coming back and using our site.

  22. So let me get this straight… I was right? You actually did replace “muff” with “miff,” even though it is the WRONG WORD, just to avoid offending some soccer mom somewhere? And INTENTIONALLY, in a piece about a lone performer’s INADVERTENT after-hours slip of the tongue? And yet you claim “standards”? On that, I’m afraid I must call “shenanigans!”
    May the journalism gods forgive you, is all I can say. If the late William Safire could post from beyond the grave, I’d like to think he’d agree, once he stopped spinning.
    As for your line about my gender somehow impeding my ability to comprehend your marketing approach (“Now you being male of course won’t agree”): gender has nothing to do with anything in this instance. I don’t know if you are male or female, realtvcritics.com, nor do I care; trust me, I know plenty of women who aren’t afraid of “naughty” words and who are just as offended by “thought police” – self-appointed or gov’t-sanctioned – who attempt to warp and/or sanitize our beloved English language for their own moralistic or commercial ends.
    Of course, you’re free to target any demo any way you so choose, and I wish you all the financial success in the world. Just as I am free to object when someone substitutes “miff” for “muff” and doesn’t care who feels muffed… I mean “miffed.” Good luck with those “standards” of yours, my friend.

  23. Gee, Bill Supporter Numero Uno, thanks for the homework assignment. Here’s that definition, because, golly gee, I’d hate to sound like an… can I say this on the Internet?… an asshole:
    arrogant |ˈarəgənt|
    adjective
    having or revealing an exaggerated sense of one’s own importance or abilities : he’s arrogant and opinionated | a typically arrogant assumption.
    Having dispensed with that little exercise, if you can’t recognize in your best bud Bill’s posts, or yours, a certain “arrogance,” I don’t know what to tell you.
    I don’t see how a sketch performer’s accidental lip-slip, or SNL’s failure to predict/prevent same, demonstrates hers, or the show’s, “exaggerated sense” of their own “importance or abilities.” If they want to institute a seven-second delay, then fine, whatever, I don’t care. But it was an error, a gaffe, a goof… no harm, no foul, no blood, no ambulance… and no arrogance

  24. I personally would like to see the censorship policies re-visited, or better yet, done away with.
    It’s not like they’re protecting anyone any way. Adults and children alike are exposed to more things in every day life than are delivered on TV and Radio.
    What ever happened to being responsible for our own temperance or chastity? We’ve gotten to the point where we just don’t accept responsibility for anything any more and blame everyone else for our problems.
    I, personally, am annoyed every time I try to watch a comedian on Comedy Central because I miss the damn punchlines that are bleeped out by our self-appointed, self-righteous censors.

  25. Hey Matt,
    Thanks for the conversation. Matt Lauer always uses that famous line to “follow the money” and that’s where we’re going. An old radio programmer once said to me to “never give your audience a reason to tune out your station” and with both comments comes just that responsiblity. And you may not like it but that responsibility is to the bottom line, to employees, to investors and to the future. People’s families, houses, cars and children’s education are dependent on the content permitted on this site. Ratings = revenue. And remember content is KING! That’s me. That’s for my site. For those employees at NBC, their livelihoods, dependent now on what people call a single. small mistake, are now at risk. One more quote and that is I’d rather be safe than sorry.” But it was good banter with you although we disagree. And looking forward to the next time someone uses the “F” word on television so we can use the word “miff” again and get us both going toe to toe!

  26. Oh, I don’t think we were actually going “toe to toe,” because to do that you would have had to step up to the line. Honestly, I think you’re just trolling these boards in hopes of generating traffic to your site, but in that effort I suspect you will fail…
    Most of the people who post here are fairly open-minded as well as media-savvy, and would have little use for a site that so cavalierly sacrifices journalistic integrity in the name of profit and/or for fear of offending.
    You may get readers, but not among this crowd, so perhaps it is not so cost-effective for you to spend your time at TV Week. You might try distributing flyers at suburban soccer games, or at one of those semi-annual Francophobe conventions… Try the “freedom” fries, I hear they are delish!
    And I’ll leave you with a quote (the likelihod that you will likely misconstrue its meaning is perhaps the greatest irony of all):
    “No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people.”

  27. Matt! Matt! I thought we were done. So if you must.
    I’m not trolling TV Week for traffic to the site. OK let’s have this lesson again. I’m looking for soccer moms 25 to 44 years of age. Now yes some of my consumers may use this site but really do you think that I would spend time bantering back and forth with you here or would it be more prudent to understand my consumer and reach out to them on much larger venues? Like maybe The Today Show site? Is my consumer media people or my soccer mom in suburban DC watching Matt and Meredith? Dude even google adwords does better for me than trolling for users. Are you kidding? Now you’re showing that you’re not really media saavy nor really marketing saavy with that statement. If you think TV Week users are my core consumers then you’re wrong. And thanks for the idea of handing out flyers at soccer matches! I think tonight I will try the Orange County, Cali area! You see Matt the Household income of those in that area are substantially higher…oh, what’s the point. You won’t get it. But the bottom line is there are maybe 20 comments on this story and most of them are from you and me. So to accuse me of trolling for users to get them to my site is silly. We were having a real educated conversation which I appreciated for a moment, but now you took it to a level that I’m so far above that you’re no longer any fun anymore. See I was having fun Matt. I don’t have much fun Matt and this was fun. Good, mentally challenging conversation gone now Matt. You just ruined my day Matt. Now I have to go print up flyers Matt!

  28. Dear realtvcritics.com person,
    Happy to oblige.
    I must confess that, from so very below you, and despite my 15-plus years in TV-related journalism, it’s no wonder that I cannot see the brilliance of your marketing strategy nor have any godly idea what your actual intention is in posting on these boards. So I’ll just agree with you on these points:
    • Def Comedy Jam is bad, Wharton is good, and anyone who sees possible racist/classicist undertones in such an assertion is just plain wrong
    • The French are amoral at best, immoral at worst, and have thus have no place participating in civilized discourse. So out with not only Roman Polanksi, but also Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas, Alexis de Toqueville, and Voltaire
    • It’s perfectly acceptable to abandon any and all editorial standards in pursuit of one’s preferred demo, the English language be damned. So, “muff” is “miff,” “war” is “peace,” “hate” is “love,” and so on
    • It’s also acceptable to appropriate other corporations’ intellectual property and trademarked images (like silhouettes of Homer Simpson and Batman) for use in one’s own website logo
    In closing, to quote Homer Simpson: “Now that’s sarcasm!”

  29. Now, Matt, I suggest you double up on your medication cause I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.

  30. I’m just penciling the confounding notions in your posts out to their logical conclusions – however racist, xenophobic, ignorant or likewise your ideas might be…
    You see, kiddo, in case you are not aware, most anything a person (even me) thinks or says has a subtext, a hidden meaning – whether intended or not – that reveals something about their personal opinions, attitudes, fears, fantasies, and so on.
    Comedians ply their trade in clubs and on shows like Def Comedy Jam, and are not Wharton grads, as you say, which leads me to suspect you have some deeply-rooted fear of any and all things you deem declasse or straight-up “ghetto”, even though you’d never admit it. Your desire to service only the affluent and aspirational demos would only only seem to confirm this.
    Likewise with our French friend who was first to post: You suggest neither he nor any other French person has any say in the matter under discussion since French concepts of right and wrong are completely foreign to our American way of thinking, as demonstrated by his government’s efforts on behalf of one of its own citizens, Mr. Polanski. One single act by any nation IS NOT an indictment of that nation or culture as a whole, regardless of how you see it. What I see in this is the same retrograde jingoism we saw during the Iraq war: “The French don’t support us, so let’s boycott their cheese!” I’ve been to France, it’s lovely, and quite civilized.
    And finally, you have yet to provide a rational response to my concerns over your intentional substitution of “miff” for “muff” in the SNL-related post on your own website, even though they are two completely different words with two distinct meanings; and for failing to acknowledge the irony that you did so in a post about a performers UN-intentional linguistic switheroo. If you somehow managed to get a job at respectable news organization and tried something like that in print and on purpose, you’d be laughed back out onto the street in a heartbeat.
    As for the meds, too much whiskey, not enough weed, and not enough of either in quite some time…

  31. The show was aired during “safe harbor”. According to the FCC “The “safe harbor” refers to the time period between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., local time. During this time period, a station may air indecent and/or profane material.” Obscene material, though, is not allowed. Further more, the FCC considers user of the ‘F-Word’ to fit the “Indecent/Profane” definition, but not obscene. So NBC and their affiliates are off the hook for this Saturday Night Live boo-boo, unless a new precedent is set.

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