Viacom Inc. and the television industry at large were still reeling late last week from the Janet Jackson breast-baring escapade during the halftime show of Super Bowl XXXVIII, as many networks are now contemplating live programming safeguards to avoid a similar fate.
MTV: Music Television, which produced the controversial halftime show, circled the wagons last week, offering apologies about the "unplanned" fiasco, which is currently under investigation by the Federal Communications Commission and could yield significant fines for Viacom-owned CBS stations and network affiliates that aired the Super Bowl.
The escalating furor surrounding the Jackson breast flash caught MTV officials by surprise, according to network sources.
Hours after the incident — in which pop singer Justin Timberlake ripped off a part of Jackson's outfit to reveal her right breast — MTV released a statement saying the tearing of Jackson's costume was "unrehearsed, unplanned, completely unintentional and was inconsistent with assurances we had about the content of the performance."
Jackson also said neither MTV nor CBS knew anything about the incident in advance.
MTV Networks chairman Tom Freston commented last week that the network was "punk'd" by Jackson, an allusion to MTV's Ashton Kutcher-produced prank show.
In an internal Viacom memo, chief operating officer Mel Karmazin contended that the media conglomerate was "shocked and embarrassed" about the situation, but "satisfied that we handled the creation and staging of the halftime show responsibly, and that both CBS and MTV reviewed all planned aspects of the performances in detail and in advance."
Public criticism mounted against MTV throughout the week for the Jackson incident, as well as other halftime performances from P. Diddy, Nelly and Kid Rock that some observers termed disrespectful and unfit for younger viewers.
The show was intended to provide a positive message about empowerment and voting.
FCC chairman Michael Powell last Monday launched an investigation of the Super Bowl halftime program, saying that he was "outraged" by the "classless, crass and deplorable stunt."
The "thorough and swift" investigation could yield substantial fines for indecency violations of up to $27,500 per CBS station. CBS has about 200 affiliates.
NFL ISSUES MTV BAN
A National Football League spokesman said MTV will no longer be associated with any "NFL-related" events, although it was unclear whether the ban extended to other MTV Networks services like Nickelodeon, Spike TV and VH1.
Along with the halftime show, MTV has developed other Super Bowl-related programming, including its Rock 'n' Jock
music/sports events, numerous Total Request Live
telecasts and segments from tailgate parties. In addition, the network has profiled the homes of NFL players on its series Cribs.
MTV programming projects also took a hit. A planned high-school-based reality show set to be filmed in a Los Angeles-area school district was cancelled after local board members unanimously voted against the agreement due to the Super Bowl fallout.
In a statement, MTV said it was "disappointed" with this decision, adding that it has "built a great reputation and have had great success with our reality and documentary programming … where we honestly reflect the lives of young people."
Also, the New York Post
reported that a planned behind-the-scenes look at the Feb.1 halftime show set to air last weekend on MTV was scrapped due to the controversy. MTV officials would only confirm the cancellation.
In light of the incident, several networks will implement video safeguards in an effort to avoid embarrassing or potentially salacious incidents during live events.
Turner Network Television is talking to the National Basketball Association about placing a video and audio delay on the entertainment portion of its Feb. 8 National Basketball Association All-Star game, according to Turner Sports spokesman Jeff Palmeroy.
TNT's pre-game and halftime shows include such hip-hop and pop music artists as Beyoncé, Outkast, Christina Aguilera and Nelly Furtado.
At presstime, TNT was also contemplating a video delay for its Feb. 22 Screen Actors Guild Awards telecast, but had yet to reach a definitive decision, said a spokesman.
Broadcast network ABC will for the first time implement an audio and video delay for its Feb. 29 Academy Awards telecast. Even the NBC show ER
was affected, as a brief image of an elderly woman patient's breast was digitally obscured in last Thursday's episode of the primetime hospital drama.
Viacom said it would provide audio and video delay for its Feb. 8 Grammy Awards telecast. The network has also reportedly pulled Jackson, who was expected to present an award at some point during the three-hour telecast, from its Grammy lineup.
Sources said the delay could also be used on live MTV-televised shows such as the often-raucous MTV Video Music Awards. The network already has a 5 second delay.
"We believe that this new procedure will allow us to keep unplanned and unscripted — accidental or otherwise — incidents from occurring in the future," Karmazin said in the memo.
CBS affiliates, which might have to pay up to $5.5 million in fines, pressed the parent network for answers about the entire halftime show, not just Jackson's brief nudity.
"It was not just one incident in the halftime show; from beginning to end, the show was in poor taste and reflected poor judgment," wrote CBS Affiliates Association chairman Bob Lee in a Feb. 3 letter to CBS chairman and CEO Leslie Moonves.
The affiliates, Lee said, believed the network "embarrassed us in front of our public." He said the group would not defend the CBS network and planned to cooperate with the FCC investigation.
Lee concluded the one-paragraph letter with a request that Moonves provide "full and immediate information" about his effort to identify where the show's planning "went awry."
The Super Bowl episode came as lawmakers and regulators grow increasingly concerned about sex and violence on broadcast television. Radio and TV station licensees of the FCC may not air indecent programming between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., when children are expected to be in the audience. On Thursday, the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet is expected to approve a bill (HR 3717) that would raise the per-violation maximum fine to $275,000.
Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), who is expected to be named Energy and Commerce Committee chairman in a few weeks, called the Jackson episode "inappropriate for public primetime television" and "something we need to address."
Ted Hearn contributed to this report.