Neil's New Year's Wish Triggers FCC Probe

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) officials say they've received complaints about Motley Crue frontman Vince Neil's use of an expletive during the live New Year's Eve broadcast of "The Tonight S

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) officials say they've received complaints about Motley Crue frontman Vince Neil's use of an expletive during the live New Year's Eve broadcast of "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno," but NBC may get away with it.

When Neil said "Happy f***ing New Year, Tommy!" to bandmate Tommy Lee, the broadcast had entered the so-called "safe harbor" for indecent speech that runs from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.

The FCC has defined broadcast indecency as "language or material that, in context, depicts or describes, in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards for the broadcast medium, sexual or excretory organs or activities."

Because indecent programming contains patently offensive sexual or excretory references that do not sink to the level of obscenity, the courts have held that indecent material is protected by the First Amendment and cannot be banned entirely. It might, however, be restricted in order to avoid its broadcast during times of the day when there is a reasonable risk that children might be in the audience.

Still, commission officials said they will treat the complaints the same as any other. "We will do a preliminary staff review and go from there," one official said. "But indecent speech is protected, and it does have a safe harbor from 10 at night to 6 in the morning."

A spokesperson for NBC said the network had not received any calls about the broadcast. The remark was carried to viewers on the East Coast but was edited out before it was broadcast in the West.

While Leno tapes his regular show for broadcast later in the evening, he does a live version for New Year's Eve. He has never encountered a problem with profanities before, though the word has slipped out from time to time on other programs.

"The network has not received any calls regarding the incident," an NBC official, who asked not to be identified, said Monday.

A spokesperson for Neil, who is set to marry girlfriend Lia Gerardini Sunday in Las Vegas at a ceremony conducted by MC Hammer, had no comment. A call to Motley Crue's management went unreturned by deadline.