Federal Communications Commission officials say they've received complaints about Motley Crue rocker Vince Neil's use of an expletive during the live New Year's Eve broadcast of "The Tonight Show With

WASHINGTON, D.C. (The Hollywood Reporter) -- Federal Communications Commission officials say they've received complaints about Motley Crue rocker Vince Neil's use of an expletive during the live New Year's Eve broadcast of "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno." However, they question the treatment of the complaints because of the timing of the utterance.

When Neil said, "Happy fucking 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, FCC officials said they will treat the complaint 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 spokesman 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 issue is likely to become congressional fodder again this year, as a spokesman for Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kansas, planned to reintroduce legislation raising the fine for indecent broadcasts from $27,500 to $500,000.

House versions of the legislation also raised fines on performers from $11,000 to $500,000, and the FCC regulation that requires an individual to receive a warning first was repealed.

The legislation died in the last Congress, when amendments intended to control media property ownership were added. Those amendments were objectionable enough to lawmakers to keep the fine increase from succeeding.

While no performer has ever been fined, there is pressure from some Republicans to make them pay, too.