Thursday, March 27, 2008

Verboten Moment of Truth Questions: A Canadian Perspective

Moment of Truth Questions:

Here’s another story courtesy of my cousin (Andrew, the Toronto entertainment lawyer). After reading yesterday’s post on, Andrew decided to share another good one with me. This gem’s regarding the new Fox show Moment of Truth—the lie detector-based program in which overly powdered people agree to be humiliated and exploited for the chance to win money. Gee, I’d never’ve believed it.

Since Moment’s broadcast in Canada it’s subject to the rules of the CRTC (the Canadian equivalent of the FCC, the American body which governs, among other things, media content.)

Andrew’s firm was retained to produce a report detailing what kind of questions would be allowed legally to be asked on a Canadian broadcast of Moment. Many things permitted on Canadian cable channels are not permitted on American cable channels. (For example, after eight o’clock, Canadian public broadcasters can feature full-frontal nudity and graphic obscenities. Not so in the USA.) The assumption was that many things permitted on American cable channels would not be permitted on Canadian cable channels.

Fox submitted five questions to my cousin’s firm, and the firm’s job was to write an argument regarding how and why each question could or could not be asked lawfully on a Canadian broadcast. The overarching issue was whether Fox’s Canadian affiliates would incur fines for showing questionable content.

The five questions were as following:

1: Have you ever fantasized about watching your wife have sex with a dog? (For women: Have you ever fantasized about sex with your dog?)
2: Have you ever fantasized about having sex with your mother/brother/sister/father/grandfather/grandmother?
3: Have you ever watched your wife have sex with a dog?
4: Have you ever had sex with your mother/brother/sister/father/grandfather/grandmother?
5: Have you ever committed a felony offence for which you were not caught—and for which the statute of limitations has not yet expired?

The thing most American readers will find interesting is that all five of these questions are OK by Canadian CRTC law. Serve ‘em up, because we can watch them here. But the FCC apparently threw a fit when they saw the list of five, and Andrew tells me the show’s creators and producers were threatened with serious jail time if any of the aforementioned queries ever appeared on an episode. Add seven-digit fines to that threat, and you can see how Moment’s teeth were filed by American communications authorities.

But one more thing you might find interesting: The questions test audiences, guaranteed anonymity, wanted to hear: the five listed above. And in that order.

So would Moment be a better show if contestants were humiliated to a greater extent? Sure. Prurience and perversion sell reality shows. And since being attractive is a pre-requisite for contestants, the dog questions have a much greater shock value than, say, Have you ever stolen from work. That’s why I have so little respect for TV producers. If you can’t even imagine a debauched scenario for a reality pilot, then move over and let the illiterate guy or girl take your job. They know what Americans and Canadians want.

After all, this is TV. And what’s more important than that?

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