Another boring talk show. “What Does the Underground Really Think?” In between the station’s self-important gunk, the activist tries to stick in a few memorable points that will electrify any teenagers who are channel surfing. (No cable, only seven over-the-air channels.) But in the unexpected world of Summer ‘68, this sedate interview show, hosted by The New York Times’ Steve Roberts, rocketed into the historical.
It started normal enough. Marvin Fishman from Newsreel, the in-the-streets film collective, ironically described the straight media’s failure to understand antiwar demonstrations. Alan Katzman, editor of the East Village Other, said something provocative about psychedelia. I, boringly serious, claimed that the underground was the only legitimate press. Earnest-but-friendly Steve Roberts asked more earnest-but-friendly questions. Yawn, yawn…. Anybody catch the score of the Mets game?
I looked up and Lower East Side crazy man, Melvin Margulis, was banging on the studio’s glass door. Behind him are a gaggle of Newsreel types. They shoved the door open and a pushing match for the control of the big studio cameras ensued. Suddenly, boredom turned into chaos. The TV station staff retreated into the control room, and the peasants were running the studio.
Energized, I say to Roberts, “You want to know what the underground thinks, we’ll invite them up on the stage to tell us!” All the panelists urge all our rabble friends to join us on stage. During the confusion I look up and see the red lights are glowing on the humongous studio cameras. I realize: WE’RE STILL ON THE AIR!
I guessed the savvy New York director knew he had a great show, so he left everything running. (Later, he justified his actions, saying he was terrorized and feared for the safety of the staff if he turned off the power.)
In a bit I tell Roberts that if there’s a riot in Harlem the NY Times can’t even interview the people on the streets. The times had to rely on suit and tie spokesmen speaking in educated tones with muted critiques. Rat, EVO and Newsreel would be in the streets with the people in the center of the riot.
Then it happened.
Roberts asked, “Why can’t we interview the people in the streets?”
I responded, “I can’t even say Fuck on this station. If you interview people in the streets they’ll say something like…” and I began to imitate what I heard in the streets from Harlem Blacks: “I don’t give a Fuck. If the police fuck with us there’ll be a pig fry. We’ll smell bacon tonight. We’re not like college kids. We believe in self-defense. We’ll burn the motherfucker down.”
All of which was forbidden from being printed in the establishment media, much less said on live TV. But I just said it.
The next morning the Daily News headlined, “Hippies Turn TV Tubes Blue.”
In a bit the police arrived and started arresting everyone. Some police smarty-pants came up with two felonies, like conspiracy to create a misdemeanor after dark. The government case later fell apart because we had invited all our friends up on stage to join the interview.
When a cop grabbed me by the arm, I said, “You can’t arrest me I’m an invited guest.”
And to his disappointment, the sergeant confirmed this fact for me and the others invited guests. So that night we jointly wrote what I thought was a pretty smart statement (below) then held a press conference in the morning attacking the sham free press that “ran stories to prevent the ads from bumping together.”
So that’s how, in crucible of 1968, I entered a boring talk show and emerged as the first person to say “fuck” on American Television – multiple times I might add – and for a good purpose.