The Year That Was

February-March 2004

Feb 1

To Areola Is Human

But forgiveness was denied in the post-Nipplegate fallout

CBS' SUPER BOWL TELECAST is as family friendly as any other, until halftime — when Justin Timberlake tears at Janet Jackson's shirt during a song, revealing her nipple-ringed breast. Suddenly, the all-American enjoyment of watching enormous men beat the crap out of each other (between ads celebrating beer and erections) is as tainted as a Saddam-shaped apple pie.

FCC chairman Michael Powell calls the incident ''crass'' and ''deplorable,'' and the NFL, CBS, and halftime-show producers MTV deny advance knowledge. Timberlake repentantly calls it a ''wardrobe malfunction.'' Jackson also apologizes, but is invited to the Grammys reportedly on the condition she apologize again at the awards show. (She declines, while Timberlake offers another mea culpa and performs on the program.) Later, her March CD, Damita Jo, suffers in sales, and she's stripped of a title role in ABC's planned Lena Horne biopic.

But the buck doesn't stop at the boob. Legislation is proposed to increase FCC fines tenfold, up to $275,000 per incident. In addition, the FCC slams CBS with a $550,000 bill, and broadcasters prove nervously conservative. Clear Channel cans Florida-based radio shock jock Bubba the Love Sponge and removes Howard Stern from six stations. Jittery TV nets rush to cover their asses...and everything else: NBC and ABC edit out partial nudity on ER and NYPD Blue respectively; delays are put on live events from the Oscars to NASCAR; and MTV pulls ''racy'' videos from artists such as blink-182 and Ludacris from its daytime playlist. (In keeping with the net's teeny-tiny attention span, the videos are back on within 10 days.) The frenzy reaches absurd heights when 65 ABC affiliates preempt an unedited Veterans Day airing of the patriotic Saving Private Ryan — ironically out of fear it'll get them in trouble with the government.

At year's end, CBS is still appealing the FCC's Bowl punishment, defending the incident as ''unintentional,'' though its owner, Viacom, reaches a $3.5 million settlement (the largest ever) for past radio indecencies. Meanwhile, Fox plans a wholesome Super Bowl in 2005, booking Paul McCartney for halftime. Wait, is the song ''Hey Jude'' or ''Hey Prude''?

Feb 4

PARIS IS BURNING Paris Hilton sues Kahatani Ltd. for $30 mil for allegedly distributing her sex tape (but later drops the case). The heiress was enraged that footage showed her exhibiting more than one facial expression.

Feb 13

DOG DAY AFTERNOON Some French Canadians are outraged when Triumph the Insult Comic Dog mocks them in a segment during Late Night With Conan O'Brien's trip up north. Perhaps if the pooch had been more sensitive to their culture, they would have been a more receptive audience...pour moi à poop sur!

Feb 25

CROSS EXAMINATION Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ opens Ash Wednesday in more than 3,000 theaters and grosses $23.6 million, recouping over two-thirds of its $30 million budget in one day. It's one of those rare films that appeals to that lucrative market of people who love church and popcorn.

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