LOCAL SPIN: Rude Awakening
KSBW’s reasons for censoring Western Stage make no sense.
Thursday, August 30, 2012
In the 13 or so years that The Marketing Department (TMD) has been in operation, the Salinas-based agency has produced hundreds of commercials and purchased – in the estimation of founder and president Nick Pasculli – several millions of dollars worth of ad time from local television stations. It’s safe to say they know what they’re doing.
In the 35-and-counting years The Western Stage at Hartnell College has been in operation, the theater company has produced hundreds of plays, entertained thousands of audience members and helped launch the careers of the likes of Dustin Lance Black, Academy Award-winning screenwriter of Milk. It’s safe to say they, too, know what they’re doing.
So it was especially confounding last Friday when The Western Stage’s marketing manager, Ron Cacas, received a phone call from his ad rep at KSBW telling him the station was unwilling to air – during daylight hours and before 11:30pm – a TMD-produced commercial for Spring Awakening, the Tony Award-winning play that begins at The Western Stage Sept. 8.
Cacas wanted to start running the ad beginning Sept. 3, specifically during The Dr. Phil Show and The Ellen DeGeneres Show. His theory is that audiences for the adult-themed shows might be interested in the play.
Spring Awakening has a name that belies its subject matter; the title alone sounds like a musical out of the Gilbert & Sullivan playbook. But it deals with some pretty graphic subject matter – child abuse, rape, incest, abortion, suicide – through the lens of teenagers in 19th-century Germany. Frank Wedekind wrote the play in 1891; in the 1990s, singer-songwriter Duncan Sheik and lyricist Steven Sater began setting it to rock music. In 2007, it won a handful of Drama Desk Awards, critics’ awards, eight Tonys and a Grammy.
“IF I CAN SEE PARIS HILTON FELLATING A CHEESEBURGER ON KSBW, WHY NOT MEN SMOOCHING?”
The 30-second ad TMD created makes it clear: This is a play dealing with taboo subjects. The voice-over says so: “Everything taboo.”
“Ever wonder what your teens and their friends are thinking about? Afraid to ask?” the voice-over asks. The visuals include a barefoot couple rolling in the hay, a woman wearing a camisole and boy shorts and drawing her hand down her body, and two men leaning in for a kiss, their faces in shadow.
Cacas says the ad rep told him, “They felt it wasn’t appropriate for their audience. I said, ‘Tell me specifically what part your station finds objectionable, and we’re willing to, if necessary, modify it. Give me specifics.’ And he couldn’t,” Cacas says.
Cacas adds he asked for a written explanation of the standards. Instead, he got a call from station President and General Manager Joe Heston.
“I told him I found it ironic, because after speaking for the sales manager, I went home for a late lunch and watched Dr. Phil,” Cacas says, “and I saw Ellen DeGeneres have Ashton Kutcher come out buck naked in front of Ellen’s 80-year-old grandmother. I find it ironic that this commercial shows no nudity, but this is what I am seeing on your station.”
Asked what he thought Heston was thinking, and Cacas laughed. “I don’t know if I can say it,” he says. So I asked Heston: What are you thinking?
“The ad was not deemed to be consistent with what viewers might expect to have pop up in a commercial advertising situation,” Heston says. “It’s not indecent. It’s not a bad ad. There are a universe of people watching that wouldn’t be surprised or troubled by an ad, but because of the nature of the fortunate position we’re in, everything we do is exacerbated. An error of omission or commission becomes magnified.”
(Gentle reader, let me interject here: I don’t have any idea what that means either. All I wanted to know is why wouldn’t they run the ad during the day. If I can see Paris Hilton fellating a Carl’s Jr. cheeseburger on KSBW, or Victoria’s Secret models prancing in heels and not much else, why not hay rolling or men smooching?)
“It was not banned because of an indecency factor,” Heston says. “Quite frankly, if this spot had a different visualization it would be OK. We’re not prudes here. But there’s no reason to put on a commercial that is going to ultimately have the unintended consequence of having a chunk of the audience offended.”
The Western Stage is one of the only theater companies in the county that buys TV ads on a regular basis. Even by that standard, their buys are small. They know it.
But Jon Selover, Western Stage’s artistic director and director of Spring Awakening, says since KSBW feels theirs is not the right audience, they won’t be buying any time from them in the future.
“This is too hard for them to handle,” Selover says. “I wear two hats here. There’s the artist in me, and there’s the long-time Salinas resident, and the Western Stage guy is just pissed off.”
MARY DUAN is the Weekly’s editor. Reach her at email@example.com.