Flaps over Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl flop-out, Saving Private Ryan and the recent antics of Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. should presumably provide bountiful fodder for a comedy routine that at least media lawyers find amusing.
But Federal Communications Commission chairman Michael Powell’s recent attempt to make light of this year’s industry news generated lukewarm reviews from some attendees of the annual “Chairman’s Dinner,” hosted by the telecommunications bar in Washington Dec. 2. Powell made what is likely to be his last appearance as guest of honor at the charity fundraiser. The event more-or-less obligates the FCC chairman to go all-out preparing a humorous routine.
The general critique of this year’s performance: good concepts, lame jokes.
Powell’s appearance on stage was preceded by a video clip of comedy bits. The first scene featured Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl half-time gyrations—the shocker that sparked the indecency crackdown and set the tone of media regulation for the whole year. Just before the infamous breast fallout, a sign flashed on the jumbo screen informing attendees the scene had been interrupted by Sinclair. Apparently the interruption had something to do with Sinclair’s refusal to air Nightline host Ted Koppel’s recitation of names of soldiers killed in Iraq, or perhaps its refusal to let its ABC affiliates air Saving Private Ryan.
Next, Powell was being interviewed by James Lipton in a spoof of Inside the Actor’s Studio. Asked what was his favorite curse word, Powell’s reply was bleeped out while his mouth was pixilated. Later, Powell lampooned Donald Trump in a take on The Apprentice. Donned in a Trump-like hairpiece, Powell and FCC commissioners/sidekicks Michael Copps and Kathleen Abernathy grilled possible replacements for Powell as agency chairman. Powell's chief of staff, Bryan Tramont, gets the heave-ho from Powell in the form of the hairpiece chucked his way.
At last, Powell took the stage for his monologue. He jabbed at the broadcasters for their opposition to the indecency crackdown by calling their biggest trade group the “National Association of Booty.” ABC, recently in trouble for hyping Desperate Housewives in an Monday Night Football promo, was ripped as the “desperate network,” and a “reading” of Saving Private Ryan included a wounded soldier yelling “fiddle sticks” and “cheese crackers.”
The biggest laugh of night came when Powell noted that the commission recently exempted Internet voice service from state regulation. With all the talk about blue states and red states after the election “maybe we should get away from states altogether,” he quipped.
Powell fared well in previous year’s routines—last Thursday he even played a compilation tape of dinners past that included a hilarious 2002 take on It’s a Wonderful Life. One sympathetic lawyer said Powell should be forgiven for this year’s less uproarious routine. “It’s a little ridiculous to expect him come up with a new comedy routine four years in a row,” the lawyer said. “When the funniest joke is about the nature of FCC jurisdiction, you’re working on a pretty narrow platform.”