Why 'The People v. O.J. Simpson' can get away with using the F-word

Have you wondered how “The People v. O.J. Simpson” has been able to get away with using the F-word?

While other basic-cable networks avoid the word or bleep it when used, the FX true-crime drama lets it roll.

In a recent scene, prosecutor Marcia Clark (Sarah Paulson) reads the news that Simpson has hired celebrity defence attorney Johnnie Cochran (Courtney B. Vance). “Motherf–ker,” she reacts.

As it turns out, viewers of the show don’t seem to mind the obscenity.

“We got no negative feedback,” FX president John Landgraf told Slate of the moment. “We air these shows at 10 p.m. Everybody knows what they are, that they’re adult shows.”

But why doesn’t the FCC censors get involved? The government agency only has the power to intervene on the use of profanity when it’s legally obscene. And the benchmark for being legally obscene is pretty high, according to Slate. No TV network will reach that level, the site reported.

And what about transmitting vulgar speech over public airways? That has to be against the law. The Supreme Court ruled in 1978 that it could punish for the public transmission of vulgar speech. But FX, like other cable channels, transmits its signal via privately owned and operated equipment.

With all this freedom, what’s keeping FX and other networks from going wild on profanities? Much of the balance is kept by self-censorship on the part of the networks. They have commercial sponsors, which would be troubled by the extreme use of profanity in shows that they advertise within. (HBO does not have advertisers, for example, so it’s more loose with language.)

“We’re not looking to open the floodgates,” Landgraf explained. “Our point-of-view is that everything we do is about supporting artistic integrity. In this case, letting the word fly was the way to do that.”

FX has actually allowed the four-letter word to be used on another series, Landgraf pointed out, the comedy “Louie.”

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