NYPD Blue

A federal appeals court has ruled that the Federal Communications Commission cannot fine ABC and selected affiliates $1.2 million for airing a 2003 episode of NYPD Blue that showed actress Charlotte Ross' nude buttocks, citing the FCC's unconstitutionally vague rules, The Associated Press reports.

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The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York said Tuesday that the decision was in line with its previous ruling that TV stations can no longer be fined for fleeting, unscripted profanities uttered during live broadcasts. In July, the appeals court ruled that the FCC's indecency policy violated First Amendment rights and was unconstitutionally vague. 

In its Tuesday ruling, the three-judge panel wrote that there was "no significant distinction" between its decision in the expletives case and the NYPD Blue case.

Court rules FCC indecency policy "unconstitutionally vague"

"According to the FCC, 'nudity itself is not per se indecent,'" the judges wrote. "The FCC, therefore, decides in which contexts nudity is permissible and in which contexts it is not pursuant to an indecency policy that a panel of this court has determined is unconstitutionally vague."

The FCC implemented tougher guidelines after Cher, Nicole Richie and Bono uttered expletives that were not bleeped during live award shows on Fox and NBC between 2002 and 2003. FCC lawyer Austin Schlick said that the organization has not yet decided whether to appeal, while Tim Winter, president of The Parents Television Council, denounced the court's ruling.

FCC and Fox case goes to court

"Children and families are the real victims today. This ruling will only serve to embolden the networks to air even more graphic material," Winter said in a statement. "In this instance, ABC intentionally chose to air a scripted visual depiction of a fully naked woman before 10 p.m. There was absolutely nothing fleeting or accidental about it. The inclusion of the lengthy and ogling scene was intended to pander and titillate. This was a clear breach of the decency law. And now, nearly eight years after the episode aired, ABC is told it doesn't have to abide by the law."

The NYPD Blue episode, called "Nude Awakening," focused on the awkwardness between Det. Andy Sipowicz's girlfriend, Connie McDowell (Ross), and his son, who walks in on her as she is about to take a shower. Ross' buttocks and a side of one of her breasts were shown before she turns around, covers her private areas and tells the boy, "It's okay. No problem."

The FCC announced the fine in 2008 against ABC and the 45 affiliates that showed the episode.