GETTING STEAMY ON LOCAL CABLE; IN FREE-SPEECH WORLD OF PUBLIC ACCESS, SCHOOLS AND PORN STARS SHARE FORUM.
Colin Malone is a pig, he'll tell you. A pot-bellied, grizzled, former video-store clerk who laughs at his own dirty jokes and feels up adult-film actresses.
``But I'm a funny pig and a cute pig, and I know I'm a pig,'' Malone says. ``That's a good pig.''
Malone is the host and creator of ``Colin's Sleazy Friends,'' a half-hour, late-night public access cable show that's acquired a cult following in Los Angeles.
Malone is the Jay Leno of porn. He shows film clips and asks ``the girls'' about sex, as well as other acts too kinky to qualify as sex. They get naked and try to sound like naughty, breathy Marilyn Monroes. Sometimes they get frisky and make out.
The program is shown weekly at midnight on several local public-access cable channels. That means anyone who can operate a remote control can tune in. There's no signal scrambler and no little rating code in the corner to clue you in about the content.
Even though cable companies regularly receive complaints from viewers about sexually explicit programs, the shows are strictly protected from censorship.
``We cannot exercise any editorial control,'' said John Monaghan, regional programming director for Century cable. ``We cannot tell them what they have to edit out and what they can keep in.''
A sort of netherworld
Public-access cable is a sort of netherworld of television, where motivational speakers, metaphysicists and monks spread the word, self-described losers and freaks take center stage and certain women show more skin than rotisserie chickens.
It wasn't exactly what the Los Angeles City Council had in mind when it started requiring cable operators to provide public access as part of franchise agreements back in the late '70s and early '80s.
``We never imagined anything like this,'' said Ernani Bernardi, a retired city councilman who hosted one of the first government-access shows about local issues.
The goal was, and still is, to provide affordable air time for schools, local government and the public as an alternative to cost-prohibitive commercial television.
``It gives various members of the community a voice, which they otherwise would not have,'' said Dyke Redmond, acting executive director of the Los Angeles Cable Television Access Corp.
Amateur producers need only take an orientation class offered frequently at one of the three cable stations that serve the Valley. Then they can drop off tapes and request a half-hour slot of free air time. They can even film their own shows in a studio for a fee of about $35.
Every week, a panoply of weird characters parade into the Van Nuys studio of TCI Cable.
The ``Eggroll King'' does martial arts and makes egg rolls. X.O.N. (yes, that's his name), creator and host of the ``Freak Abyss,'' recently filmed a call-in show. Too bad only about five people called - and then mostly to hear themselves say ``dude'' on TV.
Other shows haven't gone much better. X.O.N tried to shoot on location in Rancho Santa Fe, where the Heaven's Gate cult members committed suicide, but he filmed the wrong house.
X.O.N.'s guest on a recent day was a guy who calls himself Harley Fire, who smells of stogies and Halston cologne, an aroma that hangs around him as thick as the swirl around Pigpen, that dirty Peanuts character.
With green suede shoes, gelled hair and a cell phone attached to his ear, he looks, in short, like a major cheese ball.
Fire hosts his own show, ``Harley Fire's Video Party,'' that he films on location at Bob's Classy Lady, a strip club in Van Nuys.
``My show is edgy,'' he says. ``I push the First Amendment. I may be the new Larry Flynt ... Colin only shows nudity at the end. We show it throughout.''
The rules amateur producers have to abide by are few: The show can't promote a product or service; the show can't libel anyone or be obscene.
Obscenity, however, can be decided only by the courts - not by cable operators - and federal court decisions have defended the right to free speech.
Without the ability to ``police'' programs, cable operators rely on a slippery concept called ``contemporary community standards.''
In other words, material that likely would be seen on commercial television is OK for public access, too. That includes simulated sex and nudity.
``One band wanted to come on and cut each other. We couldn't allow that,'' said Christopher Soular, community access supervisor at TCI. ``Another group wanted to spank each other. We said that was OK as long as it didn't get out of hand.''
As a courtesy to viewers, some cable companies request that producers schedule adult-oriented shows after 10 p.m.
That didn't assuage the woman who was outraged when her daughter flipped off the VCR during a slumber party, and on came ``Colin's Sleazy Friends,'' Monaghan said.
He sent both Harley and Colin's tapes to company lawyers, who reviewed the material and determined that the shows were not obscene.
Even more troublesome, producers can send tapes for broadcast from out of town. While it's likely the intent of public access is to encourage locally generated programs tailored for local viewing, the wording of the franchise agreements is sufficiently vague that cable companies cannot turn down these requests.
One tape that was shown depicted a woman from New York in a bikini displaying her hemorrhoids.
``There has been an increase in producers that are testing the water to see how far they can go,'' Monaghan said.
To be sure, only a tiny percentage of 20,000 hours of new public-access programs being shown nationwide every week is risque, said Alan Bushong, chairman of the board for the Alliance for Community Media.
His group, and others around the country, are trying to raise the profile of public access among community groups and nonprofits that could benefit from the resource.
``A lot of us wish that the battleground wasn't about nudity or programs with sexual content, that maybe that it was about a viewpoint,'' Bushong said. ``But that seems to be where it is.''
One of the most recent efforts to attract a wider variety of programming is under way by the ``L.A. Channel,'' which bills itself as ``Los Angeles' Neighborhood Network.'' Begun in October, it broadcasts citywide public access on Channel 36 and educational programs on Channel 37.
Programs include for-credit university courses in foreign languages, social studies and art. Upcoming programming includes a live broadcast from the Los Angeles Black and Korean Business Expo.
``It's an opportunity to expose the arts, education and community cultural areas of Los Angeles and hopefully in their best light,'' Redmond said. ``People need to realize it's their channel.''
Harley and Colin wasted no time in requesting air time. L.A. Channel lawyers are reviewing the tapes before setting a broadcast date, Redmond said.
More than likely, the shows will be cleared to air.
The truth is, it's Colin and Harley's channel, too.
Photo: (1--Cover--Color) On the cover: Porn star Randy Rage and host Colin Malone share a moment during a taping of ``Colin's Sleazy Friends.''
(2) Even though cable companies regularly receive complaints from viewers about shows such as ``Colin's Sleazy Friends,'' featurig Colin Malone, left, and Dino Everett, the shows are strictly protected from censorship.
Tom Mendoza/Daily News
(3--4) Anyone can tune in. There's no signal scrambler or rating code.
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|Title Annotation:||L.A. LIFE|
|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Date:||Mar 31, 1998|
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