CBS may be riding high on its third consecutive season as the most-watched network and enjoying a summer of success with eight of the top 10 shows on television, but its executives have a cloud hanging over their heads: more than a half-million dollars' worth of fallout from Janet Jackson's Super Bowl flash.
Earlier this month, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael K. Powell proposed fining each of the 19 TV stations directly owned and operated by CBS $27,500 for airing the two-second breast-baring incident. On Sunday, addressing a gathering of television critics in Century City, Leslie Moonves, who as co-president of parent Viacom Inc. oversees CBS, said he is leaning toward fighting the FCC in court if the network's local stations are fined.
"Some of the developments coming out of Washington are coming dangerously close to infringing on 1st Amendment rights," Moonves said. "We'll take it to court if that happens."
Although the government has cracked down on broadcasters in recent years, the Jackson incident ignited a new round of debates.
Since 1990, the FCC has issued about $4 million in indecency fines. It will be several weeks before Powell's proposal is acted on.
Moonves also oversees management of Infinity Radio -- whose star, Howard Stern, has also been fined -- and MTV, the Viacom unit that produced the controversial halftime show in Houston.
"Whether you're talking about CBS, MTV or Howard Stern, we feel this is a dangerous issue and something we're studying very carefully," Moonves said.
As for future Super Bowl halftime specials, Moonves joked: "We've already booked the Young Americans, and Andy Williams is making a comeback."