NFL Strives For G-Rated Super Bowl

By Frank Ahrens and Leonard Shapiro
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, February 6, 2005

Charles Coplin is the man charged with making sure viewers do not witness another "wardrobe malfunction" or anything like it during today's telecast of the Super Bowl. He started by telling Sir Paul McCartney to keep it clean.

In his day job, Coplin is vice president of the National Football League's fledgling cable channel. But for the past several months, he has been responsible for creating a pregame and halftime show that will neither ignite another scandal nor bring a government indecency fine, both of which followed Janet Jackson's brief breast exposure during last year's Super Bowl halftime show.

The Super Bowl is the most-watched television event of each year. As many as 150 million people are expected to tune in at some point to today's NFL title game, pitting the reigning champion New England Patriots against the Philadelphia Eagles. Advertising time is selling for a record $2.4 million per 30-second spot.

No one is taking any chances.

Choosing a British knight for the entertainment is only one of several ways this year's Super Bowl is striving to be more G-rated than last year's. Advertisers such as Anheuser-Busch Inc., criticized last year for ads some considered crude, have promised to throttle it back for today's game. Erectile-dysfunction drug Cialis will hold its commercial late in the third quarter, airing well after 9 p.m. And the NFL, embarrassed by last year's debacle, took back control of the game's entertainment, which it ceded to MTV last year. The league even scrutinized every lyric in McCartney's song list.

"Essentially, we have total oversight, and I am responsible," Coplin said in Jacksonville on Thursday.

Coplin got on the case last summer and locked down the family-friendly McCartney in November. He flew to London several times to meet with the ex-Beatle to emphasize that the NFL needed a squeaky-clean performance, a league spokesman said. But then the NFL went a step further: Unlike last year, when CBS and its often-naughty corporate cousin MTV wrote the contracts for Jackson and co-star Justin Timberlake, the NFL crafted a contract with McCartney that holds him liable for any indecency fine that may come from his performance.

"I can tell you that I won't have a wardrobe malfunction," McCartney said in Jacksonville on Thursday.

This year's Super Bowl is being broadcast by Fox, which has final say over which ads air during the game. There was intense discussion between Fox, the advertisers and their ad agencies as commercials were finished in recent weeks to make sure they are as unobjectionable as possible, network executives said. Fox already is in hot water with the government. The Rupert Murdoch-owned network is appealing a $1.2 million indecency fine proposed by the Federal Communications Commission last year for a 2003 episode of "Married by America" that featured whipped-cream covered strippers and digitally obscured nudity.

The government proposed fining CBS-owned stations a total of $550,000 for last year's halftime show, but that was only the start. By the end of the year, the FCC had levied nearly $4 million in indecency fines for a variety of shows. Congress worked to raise fines even higher.

In response, broadcasters such as NBC and Fox self-censored programs, cutting images and language they never would have before. Fox pixelated nude posteriors on cartoon characters in the animated series "Family Guy," CBS added a several-minute video delay to live events such as the Grammys and NBC cut a brief glimpse of an elderly woman's breasts on "ER," even though the show airs after 10 p.m., when FCC decency regulations no longer are enforced. (The government's authority to police indecency is restricted to broadcast radio and television only -- not cable or satellite -- and only from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.)

Despite the unpredictability of a live broadcast, however, Fox said it will not use a delay in today's game, because: "We believe a sports event is a news event," said David Hill, chairman of Fox Sports Television Group.

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