The Envelope Busts
Photo by Myles RobinsonThe first time Huntington Street TV got yanked off Time Warner Cable was when a sketch depicted a group of revelers sitting around playing strip poker. When it came time for the female card holder to take it all off, she one-upped the fellas by throwing her prosthetic leg into the pot.
You may be laughing, but many Time Warner subscribers weren't. Now El Victor, the show's sequined-masked star, and his cohorts are in the same league as Comedy Central's South Park. Huntington Street TV (HSTV) opens with a disclaimer that lets viewers know they'll have something to talk about at the water cooler in the morning: "If you are over 35 and prone to complain about pointless issues, completely lack a sense of humor and feel your life has no value unless you take a stand against an imaginary problem—DO NOT WATCH THIS PROGRAM!!"
But that demographic can't seem to reach for the remote fast enough. Unfortunately for HSTV, they are reaching for their telephones, dialing up Time Warner Cable and voicing their protests—their utter shock—thus putting the company in a difficult position: yank the show or risk losing subscribers.
And, since they're a paid service and not a public one, the issue sidles around First Amendment rights to one of its 500-channel-era tangents: viewer rights.
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Sure, HSTV is lowbrow Huntington Beach guy humor. But that's its audience. If some residents are sick of tattooed and bikini-clad partiers, how about unplugging Main Street, too? Apparently, it's acceptable to hawk infomercial crap on the paid-programming channel, but not erotic toys and stripper clothes with a little immaturity slapped in between ads to make it entertaining.
Episode 22, the most recent edition of Huntington Street TV—featuring a bloody torso in a mock ad for something called Jethro's Bloodletting Company—elicited so many complaints from outraged viewers that Time Warner Cable pulled the twentysomething bad-taste mavericks off the air for one episode, replacing it with a "best of" episode they now keep on file for just these instances.
Aside from the bloody torso, it's hard to know why. A Time Warner Cable spokesperson declined to elaborate. But HSTV producer Duke Decter has a conspiracy theory. "Our viewers are so retarded that they would probably call and complain, thinking it's a prank," he said, "but it hurts the show."
Decter can't immediately recall which episode got the guys canned the first time. "Our shows are so wacky that I can't remember what offends people and what doesn't," he admitted. But here's a clue: HSTV remains the only show on Time Warner Cable that must be reviewed for content before making it to the airwaves.
"My job as the producer is to say yes or no," explains Decter. "There's a lot of gray area. We were going to show a guy we had on tape really vomiting. We were going to make it a commercial for Huntington Street Lager. The FCC says we can show vomiting, but that it can't be real vomit. [Editor] Matt Dickey said no one who saw it would believe it was real, anyway. But we didn't do it. It was a judgment call. Time Warner would have said no. That's a problem for us then because we spent time and money producing the show. We keep pushing the envelope."
This isn't merely a hobby for HSTV's creators. Each episode costs about $1,000, Decter says. That figure includes production costs and the fee HSTV—which includes Decter, star Greg Mollin and head writer Chris Johnson—pays to Time Warner Cable. The show's revenue comes from a few advertisers, among them Spanky's, Zac Attac and clothing company Go Go Girls.
Decter says Time Warner has "never made a bad decision. They've been completely fair with the episodes they have yanked. They have a sense of humor, but they don't know what people are going to complain about."
No, indeed, especially when the show turns on its own viewers. In one episode, Mollin attacked extreme skaters and snowboarders, calling them "friggin' retards" who need to "do something extreme like get a job to support their $30-a-day marijuana habit." Most HSTVepisodes are like that—senseless rants interrupted by senseless violence, mostly naked girls and suggestions for dangerous living.
So if you thought this was a cause to fight for, take a deep breath and unchain yourself from the Huntington Beach pier. Yes, it was your big chance to get politically involved, but the fight hasn't even started. Time Warner and HSTV say the show will go on—just not Episode 22.
Huntington Street TV airs on Time Warner Cable. Wed., 11 p.m.; Thurs., 10:30 p.m.