WASHINGTON -- Federal regulators ruled Monday there was
nothing indecent about a steamy introductory segment to ABC's
"Monday Night Football" featuring actress Nicollette Sheridan
jumping into the arms of Terrell Owens.
The segment that aired last November showed Sheridan in a locker
room wearing only a towel and provocatively asking the Philadelphia
Eagles wide receiver to skip the game for her. She then dropped the
towel and leaped into Owens' arms.
Only Sheridan's upper back was exposed and no foul language was
used -- in fact, the scene was no racier than what's routinely seen
on soap operas. But ABC said it received complaints from viewers
who thought it was inappropriate.
The network, Owens and the Eagles all apologized. The Federal
Communications Commission opened an investigation after receiving
many complaints. But the five-member panel unanimously ruled the
segment didn't violate federal indecency standards.
"Although the scene apparently is intended to be titillating,
it simply is not graphic or explicit enough to be indecent under
our standard," the commission said.
While agreeing with the decision, Democratic Commissioner
Michael Copps criticized ABC for airing the segment at a time -- 9
p.m. EST -- when many children were watching.
"There wasn't much self-discipline in this particular
promotion," he said. "As stewards of the airwaves, broadcasters
can and should do better."
Federal law bars nonsatellite radio stations and noncable
television channels from airing certain references to sexual and
excretory functions between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., when children are
most likely be tuning in.
While the federal indecency statute has been on the books for
many years, the FCC has considerably boosted enforcement in the
last 18 months. The watershed event came in February 2004 when
Janet Jackson's right breast was briefly exposed during the Super
Bowl halftime show.
The FCC wound up proposing a $550,000 fine against CBS, which
broadcast the Super Bowl. The network is appealing. After the
Jackson mishap, some networks began using a broadcast delay on live
programs to catch any offensive material before it aired.