COURT SETS ASIDE WARDROBE MALFUNCTION FINE

The FCC's crackdown on television indecency suffered a severe setback Monday as a federal court overturned the agency's $550,000 fine against CBS-owned stations for airing the Janet Jackson breast-baring incident with Justin Timberlake during the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show. In a unanimous decision, the three-judge appellate court ruled that the FCC had acted "arbitrarily and capriciously" by imposing new standards for indecency "without supplying notice of and a reasoned explanation for its policy departure." CBS issued a statement calling the decision "an important win for the entire broadcasting industry," noting that circumstances occur, "particularly during live programing, when it may not be possible to block unfortunate fleeting material." FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said that he was "surprised" and "disappointed" by the decision. The Parents Television Council, the group that deluged the FCC with protesting letters following the Jackson incident, called the ruling "judicial stupidity," and added, "If a striptease during the Super Bowl in front of 90 million people, including millions of children, doesn't fit the parameters of broadcast indecency, then what does?" CBS had maintained that it had no advance knowledge that the "striptease" would occur. And, in its decision the appeals court said that "the FCC cannot impose liability on CBS for the acts of Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake," who were not employees of the network but "independent contractors hired for the limited purposes of the halftime show."

LENO TO LEAVE TONIGHT ON MAY 29

Television critics were left scratching their heads when Jay Leno, disguised in a bald cap and fake goatee, showed up as a reporter at a news conference for NBC executives Monday but did not ask any funny questions. (A few reporters even wondered aloud whether the odd-looking man was actually Leno.) "When is Leno's last show?" Leno asked. NBC Co-chairman Marc Graboff replied that it would be next May 29 and that Conan O'Brien would be taking over on June 1. A moment later, a real reporter asked, "What's going to happen ... when Leno goes to ABC and kicks Conan's ass?" NBC Co-chairman Ben Silverman eventually explained,"The point that we want you guys to take away from Jay being here is that we have a great relationship with Jay Leno. ... We've had an unbelievable business with Jay and are continuing to work with Jay and we're looking for a way that he could remain part of the family."

A HALF CENTURY AFTER SCANDAL, QUIZ-SHOW FIGURE SPEAKS OUT

Nearly a half century after Charles Van Doren admitted that he had been given the answers to questions on the hit NBC game show Twenty One, the former college instructor and son of poet Mark Van Doren, has written publicly about the events of that time. In an article appearing in the current edition of The New Yorker, Van Doren says that he experienced a "Mephistophelian epiphany" when he first appeared on the show, aware that he was participating in a fix that would see the previous winner, Herb Stempel, booted off the show. "Papa, forgive me! Mama forgive me! Uncle Carl, forgive me!" Van Doren wrote in the article, referring to his uncle, historian and Columbia English professor Carl Van Doren who died six years earlier. "I've remembered that moment for more than forty years." Van Doren later became the subject of Robert Redford's Quiz Show, in which he was portrayed by Ralph Fiennes as a tragically flawed intellectual. But Van Doren writes in the article, "I am not who you think I am, or at least, I don't want to be. It's been hard to get away, partly because the man who cheated on Twenty One is still part of me."

ONLINE SHOWS DON'T DRAW VIEWERS FROM TV SETS, SAYS STUDY

People who watch television shows online do so in addition to watching them on broadcast networks, a study by Magid Media Labs for CBS Interactive suggests. The study appears to dispel concerns that online viewing may cannibalize the television audience. In fact, 35 percent of those surveyed appear to use the Internet as a means of checking out shows that they have not seen before and are therefore likely to view them on TV as a result of such exposure. In a statement, David Botkin, head of audience research for CBS Interactive, said that the Magid report confirms what the network had already suspected -- that "online viewing is complementary to broadcast viewing, so making our programming more accessible to people drives awareness, interest and ratings." Meanwhile, a separate study by Jupiter Research has found that "serious sports fans" represent 19 percent of online users, who tend to "spend more time online, watch more video online, and shop more online."

PRODUCT PLACEMENTS HIT NEWSCASTS

Product placements, familiar on game shows and sitcoms, have now moved onto the sets of television news shows. The Las Vegas Sun on Monday reported that the two cups of McDonald's iced coffee sitting on the anchors' desk on the KVVU Fox 5 TV News are merely replicas, "made-to-scale models that weigh something like seven pounds each." News Director Adam P. Bradshaw told the newspaper that the cups, emblazoned with the McDonald's logo but which receive no mention during the newscast, represent a "nontraditional revenue source" for the station. In an interview with today's (Tuesday) New York Times, Brent Williams of the ad agency Karsh/Hagan, which arranged the product-placement deal, said, "If there were a story going up, let's say, God forbid, about a McDonald's food illness outbreak or something negative about McDonald's, I would expect that the station would absolutely give us the opportunity to pull our product off set." But the Times quoted Harold Feld of the consumer advocacy group Media Access Project as saying that expanding product placements into news "raises very troubling [ethical] questions."

Brian B.