The Federal Communications Commission yesterday proposed a $1.43 million indecency fine against ABC television stations for a 2003 episode of "NYPD Blue," the second-largest proposed indecency fine against a television broadcaster ever.
The agency proposed a $27,500 fine against 52 ABC-owned and affiliate stations in the Central and Mountain time zones, which broadcast the episode before 10 p.m., when the FCC's authority to police the airwaves for indecency expires each day.
The episode in question, aired Feb. 25, 2003, contained a scene featuring a woman and a young boy. In the scene, the woman disrobes in a bathroom. She is shown in full dorsal nudity, and the side of one breast is shown.
oh dear! full dorsal nudity, you say! i'm overjoyed that after five long years, the FCC is finally cracking down on the butts and sideboob that were broadcast in a show that was cancelled back in 2005. thanks, FCC!
For the FCC, the episode of "NYPD Blue" was an indecency twofer.
"We find that the programming at issue is within the scope of our indecency definition because it depicts sexual organs and excretory organs -- specifically an adult woman's buttocks," the FCC wrote in its ruling.
excretory organs? you mean they showed her puckered-up anus on ABC? no... they just mean buttocks. to the FCC, butts are for poopin', therefore you can't show 'em. as the weatherman would say, "not the butt hole, but the whole butt." and i don't know about you, but to me, "sexual organs" means genitals, not sideboob or ass cheek. maybe to the FCC, sexual organs are anything that turns them on.
but here is perhaps the most important passage in the story (emphasis mine):
Under the FCC's indecency statutes, over-the-air radio and television stations are prohibited from broadcasting "patently offensive" material of a sexual or excretory nature from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., when children are most likely to be watching. ABC stations in the Eastern and Pacific time zones were not fined because the episode appeared after 10 p.m. in those regions. The FCC's indecency statutes do not extend to cable and satellite programming.
pay attention here. NYPD blue was always in ABC's 10pm slot, which is when all the broadcast networks air their edgiest material. so they were protected by the safe harbor provisions in the eastern and pacific time zones.
but then we get into time zone problems. all the broadcast networks—as well as many cable networks, though they don't matter for this discussion—have two network feeds, an east coast feed and a west coast feed, that are three hours apart. if you have digital cable or satellite, you might even receive both feeds for some networks. (this is why we have 12 HBOs; we only get 7 different networks, but two feeds each for 5 of them.) the people in the middle of the county have to watch one of those two feeds and just deal with the time differential.
by punishing networks for airing "indecent" content at 9pm in central/mountain, the FCC is saying this approach is no good. if the networks want to use a two-feed system, says the FCC, then they can't air edgy material until 11pm eastern/pacific. this would require them all to rearrange their nighttime newscasts as well as their profitable "late night" lineups, which i imagine they won't do. so the only real way to comply would be to add two more feeds, at god knows what cost, which would cause massive disruption for the millions of people who've grown up watching the tonight show at 10:30.
needless to say, this is an awful precedent for broadcast television, which is already hemorrhaging viewers. ABC is right to appeal, because following this precedent would wreak havoc on prime-time and late-night tv as we know it.¶