Super Bowl tones it down

G-rated: Mindful of past fumbles, Fox and advertisers tread carefully.

February 06, 2005|By Stephen Kiehl | Stephen Kiehl,SUN STAFF

Things you won't see during today's Super Bowl broadcast: Mickey Rooney's bare behind, the Go Daddy girl shaking her bottom and a stagehand opening a beer bottle with Janet Jackson's breastplate.

Things you will see: Mike Ditka pitching designer countertops, Hammer (formerly known as a rap star) hawking insurance and Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy promoting Pizza Hut.

One year after Janet Jackson's right breast saw the light of day during the Super Bowl halftime show, setting off a public furor over lewdness and vulgarity on television and earning CBS a $550,000 fine, the producers of this year's big game are taking no chances. Ads have been well-scrubbed of any possible improprieties, and the halftime show promises to be more stodgy than saucy.

At least four ads have been pulled or rejected by Fox, which is broadcasting the game. And Fox Sports Net has changed the name of The Best Damn Sports Show Period to The Best Darn Super Bowl Road Show Period.

The halftime show, which typically features a young pop tart, will be headlined by Sir Paul McCartney, a man whose wardrobe hasn't malfunctioned since he got grass stains on his suit in A Hard Day's Night.

The effort to clean up the telecast has prompted critics - and some advertisers - to accuse Fox and the National Football League of being overly cautious in deciding what is appropriate for the estimated 90 million viewers. Advertisers, paying a record $2.4 million per 30-second spot, say Super Bowl ads are supposed to be daring.

The friction illustrates the challenge faced by Fox and its advertisers: to create a program that entertains the masses without offending a single viewer. Some of the most popular ads from last year's game - the flatulent horse, the crotch-biting dog - wouldn't make the cut this year, advertisers say.

"Everybody I talk to, when they watch the Super Bowl, they want to see edgy ads. They're not looking for Ozzie and Harriet," said Bob Parsons, chief executive officer of GoDaddy.com, which had one ad accepted and one rejected for this year's game. "They want to have a good time and they want to laugh, and that's what the Super Bowl's all about."

Go Daddy, a company that registers Web site domain names, produced an ad showing a buxom young woman shaking her rear end before a panel identified as the "Broadcast Censorship Committee." A tight shot of her chest, the company's logo emblazoned across it, is also shown.

That ad was rejected by Fox, but another version, shot from a distance, will air during the first quarter. Parsons said neither ad is any racier than some of the on-field images captured by Fox's cameras during football games. "There is nothing in any of my ads that you won't see from an NFL cheerleader," he said.

But, like any good business owner, he is taking full advantage of the controversy. He placed the rejected ad on Go Daddy's Web site, where it was generating 30,000 daily plays last week, and has written about the experience in his online blog.

Since Janet Jackson's exposure last year, the Federal Communications Commission has slapped Fox with a $1.2 million fine for Married by America, a reality show that featured men licking whipped cream from strippers' bodies, and Viacom with a $3.5 million fine for remarks made by Howard Stern and other broadcasters.

And the NFL took flak from viewers for a pre-game spot on Monday Night Football that showed a seemingly nude Nicolette Sheridan jumping into the arms of Terrell Owens of the Philadelphia Eagles.

"I think, clearly, anyone who reads the paper knows that the environment is having an effect on the way all of us do business," said Lee D'Ermilio, senior vice president for media relations at Fox Sports. "Obviously, the NFL has been affected, advertisers have been affected and broadcasters have been affected."

This year's 12-minute halftime show has been carefully examined by the NFL. The league has dropped MTV, which produced last year's show, in favor of Don Mischer, whose credits include The Kennedy Center Honors and The 100th Anniversary of Carnegie Hall.

Previous shows have featured such provocative stars as Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. This year, the 62-year-old McCartney will have the stage to himself.

"He'll keep his clothes on," said Charles Coplin, the NFL's vice president of programming.

Given such assurances, Fox will be airing the game live, without the multisecond delay becoming common in other sports such as NASCAR. A Fox spokesman said the Super Bowl is news, and there is also the problem of trying to decide in a second or two what might be offensive.

After a year of fines, broadcasters say they are still unsure what will offend viewers or the FCC, and that uncertainty factors into what they allow on the air. One viewer complaint to the FCC could lead to an investigation and fines.

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