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Fighting Indecency, One Bleep at a Time

Yet to Bozell, the answer isn't quite as obvious as it seems.

Sure, the PTC recently struck out in its efforts to replace basic cable with an "a la carte" programming option. Under this plan, consumers would be able to choose only the cable fare they wanted and thus could exclude raunch-heavy channels like MTV and FX. Last month the FCC came out strongly against the idea, though some in Congress still favor it.

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Score one for Viacom and News Corp.

But the PTC also joined what Bozell calls a mostly liberal-driven protest that derailed -- at least temporarily -- last year's FCC attempt to relax major media ownership rules. The proposed changes would have benefited big industry players like Murdoch, allowing them to expand the number of outlets they controlled in individual markets -- lessening the chance of community standards triumphing, in Bozell's view.

As for the politics of sleaze control: Bozell thinks the issue is still up for grabs.

Republicans may have pushed cultural issues while campaigning, but once elected, "it's the economics" has trumped "it's the culture" and they haven't delivered. "Either party could run on a platform of having society shape up and do very well," Bozell says.

He ventures a prediction: Look for Hillary Clinton to do just that.

Body Count

Her day's more than half over, but Rankin has miles of tape to watch before she sleeps.

There's "Laguna Beach," the MTV reality show about a high school clique, and there's a gruesome episode of "CSI: NY." ("It makes me gag sometimes, the graphic blood and gore.") This week offers an execution-style multiple homicide and repeated close-ups of an amputated leg that turned up in a Dumpster.

She'll be leaving around 4:30, as usual. Her day's work will help the PTC assign shows ratings -- green, yellow or red, traffic-light style, in the categories "sex," "violence," "language" and "overall" -- which parents can use when deciding what to tune in. PTC staffers will also use the sponsor logs and episode descriptions she's compiled when lobbying companies to pull their ads from red-lighted programs.

In the 5 1/2 years she's been doing this, she's logged more than 7,000 hours of television. "It's all gotten worse," she says. She used to be able to log two networks' prime-time shows in the same number of hours it now takes her to do one.

She still watches at home, but doesn't enjoy it as much as she used to. "Entertainment Tonight" just makes her roll her eyes. She watches movies, the Food Network and the dramatic series on HBO. "The Sopranos" is her favorite show by far, but lately she and her fiance have been tuning in ABC's "Desperate Housewives," too.

Hey, they're grown-ups without kids, she says. They're entitled. She used to watch "Sex and the City" at home as well.

Right now, though, it's seeming interminable. Samantha is getting bored with Mr. Sex Toy, who's been spouting poetry instead of performing. Charlotte's marriage remains sex-free. Now it looks as if Miranda's going to hop on a mechanical bull.

She does. The creature tries to buck her off, but she hangs on. She rips open her shirt in ecstatic abandon.

Rankin logs this under "partial nudity" as the credits roll.

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