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Indecency complaints against ABC axed
Intro to Monday Night football game was not graphic enough to be indecent, FCC says.
March 14, 2005: 4:17 PM EST
In an intro to ABC's Monday Night Football,
In an intro to ABC's Monday Night Football, "Desperate Housewives" Nicolette Sheridan strips for Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Terrell Owens.

WASHINGTON (CNN) - The Federal Communications Commission Monday rejected complaints alleging that affiliates of the ABC Television Network broadcast indecent material last year prior to a "Monday Night Football" telecast.

The segment featured a steamy encounter between Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Terrell Owens and actress Nicolette Sheridan from ABC's "Desperate Housewives."

The commission concluded in a memorandum opinion and order that the episode, broadcast at 9 p.m. ET Nov. 15, was not sufficiently explicit or graphic to be deemed indecent.

During the scene, Owens, who is suited for the game, is alone in a locker room with Sheridan, who is clad only in a towel.

The FCC described the scene as follows:

"After he rebuffs her advances, telling her that the game is about to start and that his team needs him, she drops her towel. The camera shows her from the back, nude from the waist up. The viewer cannot see her body below the waist. He responds, 'Aw, hell, the team's going to have to win without me' and she then leaps into his arms.

"The scene concludes with two other characters from 'Desperate Housewives' watching the locker room encounter on their television, who remark how 'desperate' Sheridan appears and then change the channel to the game, repeating the traditional Monday Night Football introduction, 'Are you ready for some football?!' The game broadcast then commences."

Though federal courts have upheld Congress' authority to regulate the airing of indecent speech, "the First Amendment is a critical constitutional limitation that demands that, in indecency determinations, we proceed cautiously and with appropriate restraint," the agency said.

The commissioners concluded that the material was not patently offensive, and thus, not indecent. "The 'Monday Night Football' segment, although sexually suggestive, is not graphic or explicit," the order said.

Except for a moment when her back is exposed to the camera, Sheridan and Owens were fully clothed throughout, it said.

"Although the scene apparently is intended to be titillating, it simply is not graphic or explicit enough to be indecent under our standard."

The order was signed by FCC Secretary Marlene H. Dortch.

After the segment aired, the FCC "received many complaints" alleging that it contained indecent material, the agency said in a news release. A spokeswoman on Monday would not divulge how many complaints were received.

Despite the FCC's decision Commissioner Michael J. Copps chastened the network anyway in a separate statement.

"At a time when recent surveys show that a substantial majority of parents are very concerned that children are being exposed to too much inappropriate content, I would hope that television broadcasters would go the extra mile in exercising self-discipline when airing or promoting programming that may not be appropriate for younger viewers," he said.

"There wasn't much self-discipline in this particular promotion. As stewards of the public airwaves, broadcasters can and should do better."

A spokeswoman for the network said she had no comment.

Last week, FCC Chairman Michael Powell led his last commission meeting. He has said he will leave the agency this month, and announced Friday that he will spend three months as a senior fellow at the Aspen Institute, a Washington-based organization whose stated mission is "to foster enlightened leadership and open-minded dialogue."

FCC spokeswoman Janice Wise said she did not know who will replace Powell, who stirred controversy last year when he led the charge against CBS and its affiliates for airing a glimpse of Janet Jackson's right breast during last year's Super Bowl half-time show.

"We're waiting to see, like everybody else," Wise said.

ABC is owned by Walt Disney Co. (Research)

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