• "Desperate" Football Stunt Gets Pass
  • April 2, 2005
  • Law Firm: Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP - Los Angeles Office
  • The Federal Communications Commission ruled on March 14, 2005, that Desperate Housewives star Nicolette Sheridan dropping her towel at the opening of ABC's Monday Night Football did not breach broadcast decency standards.

    The promotional segment at the start of the November 15, 2004, game between the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys was the subject of numerous viewer complaints and criticism of ABC by the National Football League. The network ultimately issued an apology, saying the placement of the Desperate Housewives promo was "inappropriate."

    But the FCC ruled unanimously that the skit did not violate the law. "We conclude that the material in question is not patently offensive, and thus, not indecent," the FCC said. "In particular, the 'Monday Night Football' segment, although sexually suggestive, is not graphic or explicit."

    In the segment, which parodies the hit show, Sheridan seduces Eagles wide receiver Terrell Owens in a locker room, enticing him to skip the upcoming game by shedding the towel she is wearing to reveal to viewers her bare back from the waist up. Owens and Sheridan then embrace as the camera pulls back to show Desperate Housewives co-stars Teri Hatcher and Felicity Huffman watching the scene on their TV and remarking how "desperate" Sheridan appears.

    TV and radio broadcasters are prohibited from airing indecent content, which is generally considered to include excessive profanity and sexually explicit material, from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., when children are considered more likely to be watching or listening. If the agency had found the ABC promo indecent, stations that aired it could have been fined up to $32,500 each.

    Significance: As reported in the March 14, 2005, issue of [email protected], the FCC appears to be easing up on its indecency campaign, having rejected close to 40 indecency complaints in recent months. With President Bush's appointment of Kevin Martin to head the Commission, however, the FCC may renew its crackdown. As reported in this newsletter, Martin is considered a stronger opponent of broadcast indecency than outgoing chairman Michael Powell.