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Washington Watch

FCC Throws In Towel On NFL Promo

After a review by FCC referees, ABC's Monday Night Football won't lose yardage for its Desperate Housewives promo featuring Nicolette Sheridan's purportedly nude embrace of Philadelphia Eagle Terrell Owens.

The suggestive spot, which featured Sheridan dropping a towel and jumping into Owen's arms, was not “sufficiently explicit or graphic” to be ruled indecent, the FCC said.

Looking to get more promotional bang for its new hit, ABC put Desperate Housewives star Sheridan in a provocative Nov. 15 MNF opening where, clad only in a towel, she attempts to seduce Owens. Owens protests that he is ready for some football until the lovely lady drops her towel and throws herself at him—discreetly filmed but the meaning is clear—and Owens decides the gridiron will have to wait.

The spot aired in the midst of the FCC's crackdown on broadcast indecency, and the NFL quickly declared the ad “inappropriate and unsuitable for our Monday Night Football audience.” ABC, which is trying to renegotiate its NFL Monday- and Sunday-night rights, quickly apologized.

Barton: DTV Bill Will Pass With Subsidies

House Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton predicts the House will approve digital-TV legislation by early summer. He has revealed few details of the bill, which is still being drafted, but has explained how he would set up a government subsidy to help low-income folks keep analog sets working in the all-digital world.

Families living at 150%-200% of the federal poverty line would be eligible for rebates on $50 converter boxes they have to buy if they don't subscribe to cable or satellite. After buying a box at a retail store, eligible consumers would send a rebate coupon to the Treasury, which would verify the consumers' low-income status and mail them a check. Barton estimated that no more than 10 million households would be eligible and the program would cost less than $500 million. The subsidy would be paid from the $4 billion-plus the government expects from auctioning reclaimed analog TV channels.

Stevens Wavers On Cable Indecency

As his colleagues took aim at what they see as over-the-top cable fare, Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) began backing off from his vow to crack down on cable.

He still wants to level the playing field for broadcasters and cable, which enjoys court-ordered free-speech exemptions. But he told reporters he doesn't think a bill just introduced by other lawmakers could pass court muster.

Instead, he thinks the cable industry will create a system like the Motion Picture Association of America ratings system, combined with some form of voluntary tiers that will allow customers to buy family-friendly programming without the edgy channels.

Sens. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) have introduced legislation that would extend the 6 a.m.-10 p.m. ban on broadcast indecency to cover gratuitous violence. Both are members of the Stevens-led Judiciary Committee.

Their bill would also give the FCC flexibility to exempt pay services, such as HBO.

Congress is still awaiting a report from the FCC on TV violence that was opened last July.

The Rockefeller-Hutchison bill would also boost fines for indecency, double the number of required hours of educational children's programming per week from three to six and require 30-second, on-screen warnings every 30 minutes during violent or indecent programming.

Another Judiciary Committee member is angling to eliminate cable X-rated movies. Noting that more than half of all cable and satellite pay-TV movies are porn, Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) called on the Justice Department to step up obscenity prosecutions. Federal investigators can start with Adelphia, EchoStar and DirecTV, he added.