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FCC Indecency Complaints Triple in 1st Quarter

What happened in Vegas sure didn't stay there.

FCC indecency complaints for first quarter 2006 are expected to at least triple the number for fourth quarter 2005, thanks to a campaign against NBC drama Las Vegas.

By the FCC’s count, it had received about 134,300 complaints about Las Vegas alone by the end of February. In contrast, the commission received 44,109 complaints against all shows for the three months ended Dec. 31, which was up from the 26,185 filed for the previous quarter.

Contributing to that fourth-quarter total had been the Mississippi-based Ameri­can Family Association, which filed numerous complaints about NBC drama Book of Daniel, which the network pulled after a few episodes. Then last month, AFA sent an alert to members asking them to complain about a Feb. 6 Las Vegas episode that featured a scene in a strip club.

AFA has said it filed more than 170,000 complaints, but the FCC count is only for a several-week window in February.FCC Deputy Chief of the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau Jay Keithley says the bureau could not determine whether all the Vegas complaints were about the AFA’s target episode but "sufficient review" confirmed that the majority concerned the Feb. 6 broadcast.

Ironically, AFA was the subject of its own indecency gripes. Some of its members complained about the Las Vegas clip included in the e-mail to illustrate the show. AFA pledged henceforth to pixelate the "indecent" bits in future alerts.

The campaign has the show’s creator seeing red. "They complained about the scene, but then they put the clip on their Web site where any kid can download it and see it," says Gary Scott Thompson. "How is that consistent with their message? My kids found it online easily, thanks to this group, but I wouldn’t let them watch my show because of its rating.

"We started hearing our strip-club scene was all over the Web," he continues. "It was showing up on a bunch of different Web sites. So we backtracked it and realized it had been copied from [the AFA]."

Thompson dismisses the idea that AFA pushed Daniel off the schedule. "They think they influenced Book of Daniel going off the air? Guess what? It was the ratings, it wasn’t them. People didn’t want to watch that show."

But that doesn’t mean NBC isn’t paying attention, he says: "They asked us to be careful what we write and what we shoot. That doesn’t mean we are going to." The network had no comment.

The FCC has not acted on any indecency complaints since 2004—in part because it settled numerous complaints through consent decrees, in part because Hurricane Katrina and FCC commissioner turnover helped delay release of a group of complaints that FCC Chairman Kevin Martin wants to issue all at once.

The commissioners are expected to release the actions, apparently a mix of proposed fines and complaint denials. But agency sources have been saying for months that their release was imminent.

The Parents Television Council, another watchdog group, led the way in rallying members to flood the FCC with indecency complaints over shows that offend its members. But in the wake of PTC’s success with e-mail campaigns, AFA vowed last fall to ramp up its complaints, including putting calls for action in church bulletins.