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A Controversy of Olympic Proportions? Well, Not Exactly.

By Lisa de Moraes
Thursday, December 16, 2004; Page C07

The Federal Communications Commission was inspired by a total of nine complaints to look into whether it should charge NBC with indecency for its coverage of the Athens Summer Olympics.

Some of the complaints focused on alleged nudity in the Opening Ceremonies, which featured actors in bodysuits depicting ancient Greek statues and a woman with an enlarged, glowing belly depicting a woman with an enlarged, glowing belly. But at least one complaint focused on the use, during a beach volleyball broadcast, of the same word famously spoken by the vice president of the United States on the floor of the U.S. Senate.

The FCC received nine complaints about NBC's Athens coverage, which included a "pregnant" woman at the Opening Ceremonies. (Tom Hanson -- AP)

For comparison's sake, the FCC says it received half a million complaints about Janet Jackson's breast-baring during the Super Bowl halftime show. But, as the agency likes to point out, it's not the quantity of complaints it receives -- though Chairman Michael Powell is fond of tossing the numbers around -- it's the quality of each complaint that is considered.

Meanwhile, a rep for the Parents Television Council, the conservative group that keeps the FCC hopping these days with its various campaigns to flood the agency with indecency complaints, insists it had nothing to do with this handful of missives.

An NBC spokesman said yesterday that network executives were bewildered by the FCC's inquiry, explaining that NBC did not receive a single call the day after its broadcast complaining that the Opening Ceremonies were "indecent." About 56 million people watched at least some portion of that broadcast.

"Frankly we are mystified that this could become a matter of controversy," the rep told The TV Column. "We find it hard to believe that Congress could ever have envisioned the term 'indecency' being applied to Olympics programming." He noted that, as The TV Column has reported, NBC's Games coverage was recently named this year's most family-friendly TV special by a group of 46 national advertisers that call themselves the Forum for Family Friendly Programming. NBC telecast a total of 1,210 hours of the Athens Olympics, and more than 200 million viewers tuned in.

It's interesting that the FCC is spending so much of its time on complaints about sports programming these days, and that the incidents have spanned three broadcast networks.

It started back on Feb. 1 at the Super Bowl when, while performing during the halftime show, Jackson had Justin Timberlake rip off part of the bodice of her costume, revealing her breast. Jackson said it was an accident; Timberlake called it a "wardrobe malfunction" and said he was a victim. CBS said it's a victim, too, and is fighting the $550,000 fine the FCC slapped on the CBS-owned stations (though not CBS affiliates) for airing the incident.

Next was the Opening Ceremonies of the Athens Games on Aug. 13, featuring Eros, the ancient god of love, flying over two lovers dancing in a shallow pool, Eros hovering over figures from Greek history, Eros hovering over the Greek shepherd who won the first Olympic marathon. And there was the glowing, pregnant chick.

Most recently, on Nov. 15, the opening bit on ABC's "Monday Night Football" broadcast featured "Desperate Housewives" supporting actress Nicollette Sheridan dressed in a towel and flirting in the locker room with Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Terrell Owens. According to published reports, the FCC said late last month it had received about 50,000 complaints about the scene, in which Sheridan dropped her towel and football fans were exposed to her naked back. ABC has apologized.

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