It took the FCC five years to decide that a February 25, 2003 episode of “NYPD Blue” broadcast on ABC Television was indecent, but late Friday the Commission announced plans to fine two ABC O&Os and 50 affiliates a total of 1,430,000 bucks because the program showed the bare buttocks of a woman as a young boy was depicted as entering a bathroom and discovering the woman nude as she was about to enter the shower. The fine was proposed for the 52 stations in the Central and Mountain time zones, where the program aired 9-10 pm, while it was broadcast after the 10 pm “safe harbor” began for the Eastern and Pacific time zones.
The fine proposed for each of the stations is 27,500, which was the maximum possible in 2003. The current maximum is 325,000. The company hit hardest by the fines proposed by the FCC on Friday is Hearst-Argyle. It had six stations on the list, for a total penalty of 165,000. ABC itself is being assessed a combined fine of 55,000 for its two O&O stations in Chicago and Houston.
Don’t look for ABC to be sending the government a check. “NYPD Blue, which aired on ABC from 1993 to 2005, was an Emmy Award-winning drama, broadcast with appropriate parental warnings as well as V-chip enabled program ratings from the time such ratings were implemented. When the brief scene in question was telecast almost five years ago, this critically acclaimed drama had been on the air for a decade and the realistic nature of its storylines was well known to the viewing public. ABC feels strongly that the FCC’s finding is inconsistent with prior precedent from the Commission, the indecency statute, and the First Amendment, and we intend to oppose the proposed fine,” the network said in a statement sent to TVBR.
The American Family Association applauded the FCC action, asserting that the ABC stations “violated a sacred trust to serve the public interest.” Similarly, Parents Television Council President Tim Winter declared that “the delay in getting here has been frustrating, but we are delighted by the decision.”
TVBR observation: This is going to be a really tough one for the FCC to defend in court, so here is some free legal advice for the Commission’s lawyers. First, make certain the judge has no access to a dictionary. This is absolutely critical to upholding your position that a buttock is a “sexual organ.” Secondly, don’t let the judge find out how arbitrary, vague and inconsistent your indecency standard has been over the past several decades. And finally, make sure he/she doesn’t learn that not a single one of the complainants actually saw the broadcast, as they certified to the FCC. The monitoring sites for these zealot groups are in the Eastern time zone where the broadcast was within the safe harbor. But they ginned up complaints via email blasts that got followers to lie to the FCC and claim that they had viewed the broadcast in the Central and Mountain time zones.