Official after station that aired show
By BILL VARIAN, Times Staff Writer
TAMPA -- Ronda Storms isn't just lobbying for criminal charges against the producer of a sexually explicit public access television show. She also is gunning for the station that aired the program.
Storms contends the offending show violated the county's contract with the nonprofit company hired to run the station. So on Wednesday she will ask her fellow Hillsborough commissioners to cancel the contract altogether, potentially shuttering the station.
"They didn't get Al Capone for murder or racketeering," she said. "They got him for tax evasion."
Storms met with State Attorney Mark Ober on Monday to make her case that an airing of the program The Happy Show was criminally obscene. Ober is investigating, according to office spokeswoman Pam Bondi, and has not made a decision.
But Storms, backed by a county staff opinion, said the program also may have failed to meet requirements of the county contract.
The show's producer, Charles Perkins, failed to air adult-content advisories before, during and after the March 5 and 12 shows, according to an attorney for the county. He also failed to identify himself in one of the show's credits, going only by his on-air moniker, White Chocolate, the attorney said.
County staffers who monitor the contract also wonder whether Perkins secured required releases from people who appeared on the show, and for copyrighted material he used. They also have sought a written program proposal required of all producers.
Perkins' attorney, Luke Lirot, called the accusations ridiculously overreaching. Even if true, he said, the alleged violations do not rise to the level to warrant canceling the contract.
"I think the ultimate obscenity would be to remove funding from all public access shows based upon a minor amount of broadcasted material that only a few people would find objectionable," Lirot said.
Speak Up Tampa Bay, a nonprofit group, runs the public access station with the help of $355,000 annually from the county that comes in part from a tax on cable television bills. It also gets money from the city of Tampa, but would be forced to close or scale back its operation without the county money.
Gregory Koss, the executive director for Speak Up Tampa Bay, sent Perkins a written warning on Thursday for failing to include his name in the credits for the March 5 show. Koss said Perkins normally does include his name, but nevertheless will be subject to suspension if he violates the policy again.
Koss has supplied Perkins' written program description: "To help people with problems." And he said Perkins contends his program does not include material that warrants the mature themes advisory. The station runs an advisory on the hour after 10 p.m., Koss said. Most explicit shows run after 11 p.m., which is when The Happy Show aired.
The station director said if Perkins can't supply releases for people or material used in the show, his show will be suspended. And Koss said he risks being accused of prior restraint if he screens shows before they air.
"When there's a complaint, we follow it up," Koss said.
Storms said he's passing the buck.
The Happy Show features Perkins wearing a nun's habit, reading from a children's book and the Bible and sounding off on other topics. He says its a spoof on some of the other station's programs.
On the nights in question, the show also showed closeups of a showering woman's genitals, and other women exposing themselves in a parade. Storms says the show crosses the line from simple nudity to obscenity, a case she made to Ober Monday.
Earlier, she appeared on the midday television talk show Your Turn -- WTVT-Ch. 13 -- with Lirot and Perkins, in a segment that sounded more like a Jerry Springer show.
Storms said camera angles on The Happy Show were so close they revealed a genital piercing. Perkins presented Storms with an Easter basket with a Constitution inside. Callers berated each guest.
Storms was in her commission office until 2 a.m. Saturday, she said, sending a lengthy e-mail about her views on the topic to neighborhood leaders and supporters. She said it wasn't a campaign mailout for her re-election bid in her conservative southeast Hillsborough district, but an attempt to update constituents on an important issue.
"This to me is a cosmic, universal issue -- a life purpose issue," she said. "I believe that people are called into office to do things. I believe I am here for just such a time as this."
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