WASHINGTON — While it appalled some, ABC’s attempt to spice up “Monday Night Football” with a racy lead-in last November was not indecent, the Federal Communications Commission ruled on Monday.
The adult-themed intro was actually a double plug for Alphabet programming, featuring Nicollette Sheridan appearing as her character from “Desperate Housewives” clad only in a towel in the locker room of the Philadelphia Eagles, where she encountered wide receiver Terrell Owens just as he was getting ready to join the team on the field. When he turned down her come-on, she dropped the towel and leaped into his arms, in the process revealing her nude back to the camera.
Scene then cut to two other housewives from the popular show, who remarked how “desperate” Sheridan seemed to be as they got ready to watch “Monday Night Football.”
Network as well as the Eagles and Owens later apologized to viewers, acknowledging claims the ad was inappropriate. After receiving “many” complaints, according to an agency statement, the FCC was forced to open an investigation into possible violation of indecency standards.
Current law prohibits the airing of indecent material between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., when children are most likely in the audience. Ad aired at 9 p.m., but the content did not meet the agency’s definition of indecency, the FCC concluded.
In labeling content indecent, regulators must consider three criteria: the explicitness or graphic nature of the material; whether the material dwells on or repeats at length descriptions of sexual or excretory organs or activities; whether the material appears to pander or is used to titillate or shock.
“Although the scene apparently is intended to be titillating, it simply is not graphic or explicit enough to be indecent under our standard,” the five-member commission said in announcing its unanimous decision.
Nevertheless, commissioner Michael Copps added in a separate statement: “At a time when recent surveys show that a substantial majority of parents are very concerned that children are being exposed to too much inappropriate content, I would hope that television broadcasters would go the extra mile in exercising self-discipline when airing or promoting programming that may not be appropriate for younger viewers. There wasn’t much self-discipline in this particular promotion. As stewards of the public airwaves, broadcasters can and should do better.”
The Parents Television Council, which monitors primetime broadcasts extensively and is often the source of indecency complaints to the FCC, did not complain about the ad. “We certainly thought it was inappropriate and we agree with commissioner Copps, but we didn’t feel it rose to the legal definition of indecency and so we aren’t surprised by the FCC’s decision,” said PTC exec director Tim Winter.
Decision comes amid newly passed legislation in the House raising indecency fines to $500,000 per infraction as well as increasing talk on Capitol Hill of bringing cablers and satellite radio under FCC purview.