Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Flashback: FCC slaps 'NYPD Blue' with indecency fine

Posted By on Tue, Jan 29, 2008 at 4:18 PM

click to enlarge 200px-nypd_blue_logo.jpg

To embed or not to embed? The question arises when blogging about the $1.43 million fine that the Federal Communications Commission proposed for ABC on Friday. At issue is a 2003 episode of "NYPD Blue," Steven Bochco's once notorious cop show (1993-2005) that featured unprecedented quantities of nudity and profanity.

In the scene in question, on an episode titled "Nude Awakening," a young boy surprises Charlotte Ross' detective character before she steps into a shower, as an example of the awkward encounters when single parents start dating again. It's reminiscent of a similar scene in Kramer vs. Kramer when Dustin Hoffman's character invites a new lover to spend the night, and she unexpectedly encounters his son while walking through the hall in the middle of the night.

The FCC indecency fine features some odd parameters. According to a Washington Post story:

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.

So material that airs at 9:59 is "indecent," while the same material shown at 10:01 is perfectly fine.

Probably the first question that comes to a casual reader's mind is, "So, can one actually find the clip in question online?" (I'm sure we're only interested in terms of freedom of speech issues, of course.) It turns out you can, based on a quick keyword search on a certain popular video file-sharing website. I considered embedding the clip in this blog post, but hesitated. The nudity in the scene seems a little too gratuitous for an encounter that's meant to be awkward and comical, and including it in PopSmart would seem a little gratuitous, too. We're cool with some content that's Not Safe for Work, but to me at least, the clip seemed to cross a line.

The FCC fine still strikes me as a censorious overreaction, particularly given that the episode aired five years ago. But given the amount of choices today's pop audiences now have for more mature content — on DVD and cable television, to name two — encouraging broadcast television to be a little more family-friendly, maybe in PG-13 terms, seems like a reasonable goal, if it can be voluntary. Just because a little nudity won't hurt anyone, that doesn't mean you have to see it everywhere.

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