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The Price of Freedom is No 'Diff'rent Strokes' Reruns

Out here in California -- State Motto: "Ask Us About Our Crazy Recall Laws" -- we may be on the verge of electing a new governor because, well, frankly, the guy we elected 10 months ago doesn't appear to be working out. As a result, we'll have an election in 56 days or so, and if more than half the electorate that bothers to show up on Election Day decides that the incompetently venal Gray Davis is too incompetent and too venal for their tastes, then we'll have to pick a new sucker to run this craphole of a state from a list of 135 hopefuls, including Hollywood strong man Arnold Schwarzenegger.

I'm guessing you might have read something about that in the funny papers.

Here's an unintended consequence of the recall campaign: because of equal-time rules -- that FCC requirement that allows all candidates access to equal amounts of airtime -- California stations will be unable to broadcast Arnold Schwarzenegger movies between now and Election Day. This is a terrible hardship, certainly, but considering that the Schwarzenegger canon includes "Red Sonja," "Twins" and "Hercules in New York," it is the price we Californians are prepared to pay for a free and unfettered democracy.

The beefy Austrian isn't the only candidate whose C.V. must go MIA between now and the October 7th election. Gary Coleman is also a gubernatorial candidate, so if you live in California and you're just dying to see that episode where Arnold Jackson and his friend Dudley are molested by Arthur Carlson from WKRP in Cincinnati, you're just going to have to wait until October 8th.

The full extent of the FCC's equal-time rules is not completely known. Even though the rule may not necessarily affect cable channels, FX and Sci-Fi announced they were yanking Arnold Schwarzenegger movies from their rotations, lest they have to devote two hours of airtime to having Bill Simon or Cruz Bustamante hunt down the Colombian terrorist who killed their families or save humanity from an army of killer robots.

And other scenarios promise to test the limits of the equal-time requirements. With Larry Flynt as a gubernatorial candidate, does that mean California will be spared broadcasts of Milos Foreman's gassy and well-nigh unwatchable "The People Vs. Larry Flynt?" And if so, can we fix it so that Flynt can run for political office in perpetuity, even after he passes away? And perhaps someone at the FCC could look into extending the equal-time provisions to all roles featuring Woody Harrelson. If I have to listen to that jackass tell me how I can use hemp to weave myself a three-piece suit one more time, I'm going to punch someone.

I... seem to have wandered off topic.

Under equal-time rules, are we forbidden from watching reruns of candidate Arianna Huffington espouse liberal positions on assorted talking-head shows? Or, are the stations off the hook if they show reruns of candidate Arianna Huffington from back when she espoused conservative positions on those same assorted talking-head shows?

And, perhaps most importantly, when voters head to their local video store to sample the cinematic offerings of candidate Mary "Mary Carey" Cook, will they be forbidden from renting "New Wave Hookers 7," "Double Air Bags 11," and "Girls School 4?" Or, if they rent "Last Action Hero" and "The Kid From Left Field" -- not the original, but the horrible made-for-TV remake with Coleman, Robert Guillaume and Ed McMahon as the owner of your World Champion San Diego Padres -- is everything kosher? I have no idea. But in the interest of clarifying an ambiguous law, I'm perfectly willing to head to the video store and rent as many Mary Carey movies as I can expense to TeeVee.org.

Because I'm civic-minded that way. Also, the wife's out of town this weekend.


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