Court tosses indecency case against ABC's 'NYPD Blue'
There is nothing indecent about actress Charlotte Ross' rear end. That's the word from the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York, which tossed a roughly $1.4 million fine that the Federal Communications Commission had slapped on ABC and some of its affilaites in 2008 for a 2003 episode of the police drama "NYPD Blue" in which Ross' buttocks were visible to viewers.
Last July, a three-judge panel from this same court ruled that the FCC's enforcement of its indecency rules was "unconstitutionally vague and chilling." That decision was in response to a fight between the FCC and Fox Broadcasting over so-called fleeting obscenities. The FCC decided in 2004 that TV stations could be fined for indecency violations in cases when, during a live broadcast, an obscenity went out over the air.
That decision came after Fox aired awards shows in 2002 and 2003 in which swearing by Cher and Nicole Richie was not bleeped in time.
The court said its July ruling applied to this case as well even though the circumstances were different.
"Although this case involved scripted nudity, the case turns on an application of the same content-based indecency test that Fox found 'impermissibly vague,' " the ruling said.
In the episode at hand, Ross, who played Andy Sipowicz's (Dennis Franz) love interest, is caught in a state of undress by his son. When the FCC first made a stink about the scene, ABC and its affiliates said, according to the court, that it was included to "portray the awkwardness between a child and his parent's new romantic partner and their difficulities in adjusting to life together."
Not all ABC stations were fined because the FCC only went after stations in markets where the show show aired at 9 p.m. On the East and West Coasts, "NYPD Blue" ran at 10 p.m. but in central time zones, it aired earlier.
Maybe the FCC would have had a stronger case if it went after ABC for showing Dennis Franz's rear end.
-- Joe Flint
Photo: Charlotte Ross and Dennis Franz on "NYPD Blue." Credit: Craig Sjodin / ABC