'Modern Family' Taunts FCC by Airing F-Word During Supreme Court Hearing on Censorship

Little treat for First Amendment advocates on next week's episode of "Modern Family": Adopted two-year-old Lily will drop the F bomb all over set, much to the horror of her two dads. (Gay parents! Curse words! The controversies of the '90s are alive on prime time.)

Titled "Little Bo Bleep," the episode is perhaps not so accidentally aligned with a Supreme Court hearing today on the Federal Communications Commission's right to fine TV networks for airing profanity or nudity.

The fight between the FCC and and the entertainment industry has been a long and messy one...

... and freedom-fighters now argue that the regulations are pointless "at a time when so many Americans have unregulated cable television and the Internet is awash in easily accessible adult material," writes the Associated Press.

Here are the standards as they've stood for decades:

The FCC has defined profanity as "including language so grossly offensive to members of the public who actually hear it as to amount to a nuisance."

Like indecency, profane speech is prohibited on broadcast radio and television between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.

ABC's super-successful "Modern Family" isn't breaking the rules all the way. Instead, in a taunting and legally questionable sidestep, Lily will be shown saying the F-word multiple times throughout the show -- "but it's not audible to the viewer," creator Steve Levitan told a press panel in Pasadena.

We see what you did there, Steve! Shakin' things up over at ABZZZ. According to Entertainment Weekly, this "might be the first time in a scripted family broadcast TV series where a child has said the F-word."

We've contacted a few broadcast lawyers on the specifics of the FCC guidelines, with regard to whether profanity is still profanity when it's mouthed. But considering the inconsistencies of the regulations as they are, we're thinking not. Via the Associated Press:

At the very least, the networks say the FCC's current policy is too hard to figure out, penalizing the use of particular curse words on awards programming but not in the airing of the movie "Saving Private Ryan," for example.

If Tom Hanks can drop a few stink bombs for the cause of dramatizing his war story, Lily's soft rebellion shouldn't be a huge issue. But we're glad to see ABC getting its pokes at the FCC while it counts.

[@simone_electra / swilson@laweekly.com / @LAWeeklyNews]

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