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January 11, 2018

New York Post Revisits Golden Age Of Public Access Porn TV

NEW YORK CITY—The New York Post on Thursday took a look back to the bizarre and weirdly innocent days when porn stars, strippers and other assorted denizens of adult entertainment’s early era paraded across small TV screens in the living rooms and apartments of any New Yorker who happened to subscribe to cable television.  The 1970s and ’80s were the golden age of Manhattan Cable “public access” TV, where “you’d zip around the dials and all of a sudden, you’d see a penis in your face,” according to veteran New York talk show host Richard Bey.  “We didn’t have a gazillion channels back then, so there wasn’t a way to avoid it,” Bey told The Post. The paper not-so-fondly recalls three of the most enduring and, in their day, shocking shows that aired on public access TV in New York City, in the years immediately following the landmark 1973 United States Supreme Court decision in Miller v. California, in which SCOTUS for the first time ruled that “obscenity” could be defined differently in different regions of the country by “applying contemporary community standards.” Apparently, the community standards in mid-1970s New York City were minimal, because almost immediately, public access TV was flooded by raunchy, sex-saturated—if extraordinarily low-budget—programming. Midnight Blue, created by and starring Al Goldstein, the paunchy publisher of the gritty and groundbreaking weekly tabloid Screw Magazine, was one of the first to test the new parameters of what counted as “obscene,” debuting in 1974 and, amazingly, running until 2003, surviving early attempts by Manhattan Cable honchos to shut the show down.   Goldstein’s show took viewers inside strip clubs, reviewed the latest adult films to grace the screens of Times Square porn cinemas and even featured a segment that Goldstein titled “Fuck You!” in which the Screw founder ranted profanely about whatever was causing him annoyance at that particular moment. Goldstein died virtually penniless in 2013 at age 77. In 1977, Midnight Blue was followed by The Robin Byrd Show, in which the upbeat sometime porn performer, clad in a skimpy bikini, interviewed a parade of adult film stars, strippers and other professionals of the suddenly booming legal sex industry—many of whom appeared on the ramshackle show completely nude. Remarkably, Byrd’s show is still airing today—though only in reruns. The 60-year-old Byrd, who also appeared in the 1978 porn classic Debbie Does Dallas, retired from producing new broadcasts in 1998. A shorter-lived but equally legendary public access hit bearing the bizarre title The Ugly George Hour of Truth, Sex, and Violence bowed in 1976 and bowed out, for the most part, in 1982. Though the show’s host, “Ugly” George Urban, gained such cult status that he was able to attracts guests such as legendary ex-Beatle John Lennon, a very young Michael Jackson and others, the staple segment of the Ugly George program consisted of Urban prowling the streets of New York City with a shoulder-mounted video camera, accosting attractive women. The point was for George to talk the women into accompanying him into some nearby building where he would then cajole them into shedding their clothes for the camera. Many complied, while those who did not were subjected to Urban’s verbal abuse as they stormed away in disgust.  When community activist and filmmaker George Stoney conceived the idea of “public access” television, The Post recounts, he envisioned a forum by which New Yorkers would become better informed citizens, through live broadcasts of local government meetings and panel discussions of serious community issues. Instead, he—and a lot of horny New Yorkers—got Robin Byrd, Al Goldstein and Ugly George. “He wanted community board meetings and no entertainment,” Ed Grant, a current public access New York TV personality, told The Post. “As a viewer, I don’t know anyone who was really interested in that.” Pictured: Robin Byrd.

 
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