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FCC Fines and Hollywood's Creative Community

MADELEINE BRAND, Host:

The FCC has proposed a record fine, $3.6 million, against dozens of CBS stations and affiliates. It's over a scene in the crime drama Without a Trace that aired more than a year ago. It involved teenagers having sex, group sex and an orgy scene. Joining us now to discuss how TV writers deal with the possibility of indecency violations is Lawrence O'Donnell. He's a writer and producer on The West Wing. And Lawrence O'Donnell, welcome to DAY TO DAY.

LAWRENCE O: Thank you.

BRAND: Now, before we get into how you cope with these kinds of matters in the writing realm, let's talk about this particular episode of Without a Trace. I understand you've seen it. And the way the FCC report describes it, it sounds pretty lurid and something, yeah, I don't think I'd want my children to be watching.

DONNELL: The FCC accuses the show of having depicted graphic sex. I have seen graphic sex. I have never seen it on commercial television.

BRAND: Although in defense of the FCC, they are saying, yes, indeed, they're not actually showing nudity, but they are showing what is clearly sexual activity.

DONNELL: Well, we don't. We never have. We never will.

BRAND: Now, let's get to how you operate as a writer. You write for The West Wing. Do you keep the FCC in the back of your mind?

DONNELL: So you can do anything on a show like The West Wing, in which all sorts of, you know, horribly offensive ideas can be thrown around, and they have been thrown around, and we won't get a single complaint because everyone's going to be fully clothed during the discussion.

BRAND: What about using obscenities?

DONNELL: We will leave this interview, and inside this NPR building, before I leave, I will hear words that cannot be said on this air or on commercial television, because I will hear real human beings speaking American, which includes all sorts of language that broadcasting doesn't admit exists.

BRAND: Well, Lawrence O'Donnell, thank you very much for coming in and sharing your thoughts with us.

DONNELL: Pleasure.

BRAND: Lawrence O'Donnell is a writer and producer on The West Wing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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