TV notes: Networks and stations contest indecency ruling from FCC

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Four TV broadcast networks and their affiliates have filed court challenges to a March 15 Federal Communications Commission ruling that found several programs "indecent" because of language.

Craig Sjodin, ABC
Dennis Franz, a regular cast member of "NYPD Blue" -- as hard-boiled Detective Andy Sipowicz -- was in the series in 2003, when the FCC says the ABC show crossed the line of decency.
Click photo for larger image.

ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox, along with their network affiliate associations and the Hearst-Argyle Television group of stations, filed notices of appeal in various federal courts, including in Washington, D.C. and New York. Some were filed late Thursday and the rest yesterday morning.

The move represents a protest against the aggressive enforcement of federal indecency rules that broadcasters have complained are vague and inconsistently applied. Millions of dollars in fines have been levied based on those rules.

The appeals challenge the FCC's finding that profane language was used on the CBS program "The Early Show," in 2004, incidents involving Cher and Nicole Richie on the "Billboard Music Awards" shows broadcast by Fox in 2002 and 2003 and various episodes of the ABC show "NYPD Blue" that aired in 2003.

The FCC did not issue fines in those cases because the incidents occurred before a 2004 ruling that virtually any use of certain expletives would be considered profane and indecent.

While none of the cases involved NBC, the network filed a petition to intervene on behalf of the other networks and stations.

The networks and affiliate groups, representing more than 800 individual stations, issued a rare joint statement yesterday calling the FCC ruling "unconstitutional and inconsistent with two decades of previous FCC decisions.

"In filing these court appeals we are seeking to overturn the FCC decisions that the broadcast of fleeting, isolated -- and in some cases unintentional -- words rendered these programs indecent."

The networks and stations said the FCC "overstepped its authority" and acted arbitrarily in not giving the networks a clear standard for what content is objectionable.

FCC spokeswoman Tamara Lipper said yesterday that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled more than 20 years ago that comedian George Carlin's monologue on the "7 dirty words you can't say on television and radio" was indecent.

"Today, Disney, Fox and CBS challenged that precedent and argued that they should be able to air two of those same words," Lipper said. "We are reviewing their filings."

In three of the cases being appealed, the FCC found that violations occurred during live broadcasts. A contestant from the CBS show "Survivor: Vanuatu," for instance, used a variation of the "S" word when referring to another contestant on "The Early Show" in December 2004.

The FCC found the use "indecent," but did not issue a fine because "our precedent at the time of the broadcast did not clearly indicate that the commission would take enforcement action against an isolated use of the 'S-word,'" the FCC wrote in its March 15 order.

In the case of "NYPD Blue," the FCC found that the show's use of a variation of the "S" word was indecent because the episode aired at 9 p.m. in the Central and Mountain time zones. The use of the word after 10 p.m. in the Eastern and Pacific time zones was not objectionable, the FCC found.

The networks and affiliates Friday said they objected to the "growing government control over what viewers should and shouldn't see on television."

(Gary Gentile, The Associated Press)

More reality on MTV

MTV will roll in a new reality series in the fall focusing on skateboarding star Rob Dyrdek and his bodyguard/roommate Christopher "Big Black" Boykin.

Dyrdek started skating when he was 12 and was a professional skateboarder at 16. He hired Boykin as a bodyguard after "years of being hassled by cops and security guards for riding in the streets," MTV said in a statement. The two live in Dyrdek's Hollywood Hills home.


Philly Orchestra on NPR

The Philadelphia Orchestra, which has lacked a regular presence on national radio for nearly a decade, will have a series of concerts on NPR.

All or part of 26 previously recorded concerts from the orchestra's 2005-06 season will be broadcast on the programs "SymphonyCast" and "Performance Today."

The agreement is for one year but is expected to be renewed. The programs come after the orchestra and its unionized musicians agreed on fees for the broadcasts, which will be produced by NPR and Philadelphia-based WHYY-FM.

The orchestra, now led by music director Christoph Eschenbach, has not been heard regularly on national broadcasts since the 1997-98 season. Philadelphia was the first orchestra with its own commercially sponsored national radio series, beginning in 1929 on NBC.


WCWB becomes WPMY

Effective Monday, Channel 22 will change its call letters from WCWB to WPMY to reflect its upcoming affiliation with My Network TV, a new network that launches in the fall.

This comes after Channel 19 changed its call letters from WNPA to WPCW last month.

Both changes stem from the merging of The WB and UPN networks, which will occur in the fall. Rising out of the merger will be The CW, which will air on Channel 19, WPCW.

To create programming for Fox-owned UPN stations in other markets left without a network, Fox will launch My Network TV for its abandoned stations. Non-Fox-owned stations that were also left out by the UPN-WB merger are also lining up to carry My Network TV programming, including Channel 22. The station will continue to brand itself as "Pittsburgh's WB22" until The WB ceases to exist.

(Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV editor)


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