Media Law Prof Blog

Editor: Christine A. Corcos
Louisiana State Univ.

Monday, March 14, 2005

FCC Rules "Desperate Housewife" Not Desperate Enough

The FCC has ruled in a Memorandum and Order that a November lead-in during Monday Night Football in which "Desperate Housewives" star Nicolette Sheridan, dropped the towel she was wearing before jumping into the arms of Philadelphia Eagles player Terrell Owens, was not indecent. The FCC ruling describes the encounter thus: "

" At 9:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, on November 15, 2004, as the introductory segment to the broadcast of the National Football League game between the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys, ABC aired a scene featuring Eagles wide receiver Terrell Owens and actress Nicollette Sheridan, appearing as her character in the ABC program “Desperate Housewives.” During the scene, Sheridan and Owens, who is fully suited for the game, are alone in the Eagles’ locker room. 

Sheridan, wearing only a towel, seeks to seduce Owens. 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."

In its evaluation, the FCC states: "In our assessment of whether broadcast material is patently offensive, “the full context in which the material appeared is critically important." Three principal factors are significant to this contextual analysis: (1) the explicitness or graphic nature of the description; (2) whether the material dwells on or repeats at length descriptions of sexual or excretory organs or activities; and (3) whether the material appears to pander or is used to titillate or shock.  In examining these three factors, we must weigh and balance them to determine whether the broadcast material is patently offensive because “[e]ach indecency case presents its own particular mix of these, and possibly, other factors.”  In particular cases, one or two of the factors may outweigh the others, either rendering the broadcast material patently offensive and consequently indecent, or, alternatively, removing the broadcast material from the realm of indecency." [footnotes omitted]...

The order concludes, "[T]he material in question is not patently offensive, and thus, not indecent.  In particular, the “Monday Night Football” segment, although sexually suggestive, is not graphic or explicit. Owens is fully dressed throughout the segment, and, with the exception of a moment when her bare back is exposed to the audience, Sheridan is at all times fully covered with a towel.  No sexual or excretory organs are shown or described, and no sexual activities are explicitly depicted or described.  Furthermore, the scene where Sheridan drops her towel and jumps into Owens’s arms is brief.  Although the scene apparently is intended to be titillating, it simply is not graphic or explicit enough to be indecent under our standard." [footnotes omitted].

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