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Affiliates balk at 'ER' breast shot
Scene in Thursday's show showing patient's breasts raises concerns in wake of halftime controversy.
February 4, 2004: 12:19 PM EST

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - In the wake of the controversy over the airing of Janet Jackson's breast during Sunday's Super Bowl halftime show on CBS, affiliates of NBC are rebelling at broadcasting an episode of the drama "ER" set for Thursday due to a scene showing an elderly female patient's breasts, according to a published report.

A number of NBC affiliates may not air this week's  
A number of NBC affiliates may not air this week's "ER" due to concerns about a shot of an elderly patient's breast during the episode.

The trade publication Television Week said that some affiliates had questioned the scene when the episode was aired for them at a convention last month. The controversy, and possible Federal Communications Commission fine now being weighed for the halftime show, now has some affiliates considering not airing the "ER" episode.

"You're not going to find the stations very willing to take the heat," said one executive from a group of NBC stations quoted on a not-for-attribution basis by Television Week. "I think people are going to be backing off big-time."

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While NBC owns a number of its affiliates, including those in the largest markets such as New York and Los Angeles, the majority of the country sees NBC shows on stations not owned by the network.

NBC spokeswoman Rebecca Marks told CNN/Money that NBC executives were to decide in discussions Wednesday whether to leave the scene in the episode. She said the shot of the woman's breasts is fleeting and from a distance. She said she could not comment on how many affiliates had threatened to not air the episode if the scene is included.

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Federal Communications Commission (FCC)

The article in Television Week said affiliates have been told that award-winning "ER" executive producer John Wells was unwilling to cut the scene.

This season's fourth episode, which originally aired Oct. 23 and was rebroadcast last week, also has a scene in which an elderly female patient is disrobed during treatment, but that shot was apparently not as revealing as the shot that may be used in Thursday's episode.

The episode is set to air on the first night of "sweeps" week, which is important for setting television ad rates for the upcoming season based on the ratings they receive in the period. Thus a significant number of defections of affiliates for a show in the period would hurt the ads that NBC, a unit of General Electric Co., could charge for the nation's No. 2 drama behind CBS' crime drama "CSI."

Fines for obscenity by the FCC are levied against the various stations that air the show, not just the network. Each finding of obscenity can bring a maximum fine of $27,500.

The FCC and members of Congress have been pushing for larger fines, and stricter rules, on the broadcast of what is judged to be obscene material even before Sunday's halftime show. But the current rules impose less-strict standards on what can be shown after 10 p.m., when "ER" airs, than 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.  Top of page

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