Sixty-six ABC affiliates, covering nearly one-third of the country, ultimately decided not to air the movie “Saving Private Ryan” on Veterans Day due to skittishness over whether the Federal Communications Commission would deem it indecent.
The FCC received complaints about ABC’s broadcast and will review them to decide whether to open an investigation, a spokeswoman said Friday.
There are a total of 225 ABC stations. All 10 stations owned and operated by the network showed the movie, but affiliates in Boston, Atlanta, Dallas, Detroit, Cleveland, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Nashville, Honolulu, Phoenix, Orlando, Fla., and Charlotte, N.C., were among those that did not.
Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-winning movie opens with a violent depiction of the D-Day invasion and includes profanity. Thursday’s airing was the third time it had been shown on ABC.
“The overwhelming majority of viewers were comfortable with our decision to run ‘Saving Private Ryan’ and if the FCC wants us to respond to a complaint, we will,” ABC spokeswoman Susan Sewell said.
The stations were made nervous by the FCC’s September decision to fine CBS a record $550,000 for showing a brief flash of Janet Jackson’s breast during the Super Bowl halftime show. The FCC could impose an indecency fine of up to $32,500 on each station that aired “Saving Private Ryan.”
Many of the stations that did not air the movie told viewers upset by the decision to contact the FCC.
Two stations that had originally said they weren’t going to air the movie, in New Orleans and Shreveport, La., wound up showing it.
The movie was seen by an estimated 7.7 million viewers on Thursday, according to Nielsen Media Research. Considering 8.7 million people tuned in two years ago, ABC likely would have exceeded that number had more stations aired it.
When first shown on broadcast TV in 2001, it was seen by 17.9 million people.
ABC said it was unaware of any affiliates that opted out in 2001 and 2002. All three times, the network aired parental warnings about the content before the movie started.
On Thursday, ABC also aired an introduction by Sen. John McCain, a former prisoner of war in Vietnam.
“The ABC television network regards its Veterans Day broadcast of ‘Saving Private Ryan’ last night as a timely tribute to the sacrifices and valor of American soldiers, past and present, who know firsthand the devastating realities of war,” ABC said on Friday.
The network also noted that a previous indecency complaint filed in 2002 about the airing of “Saving Private Ryan” was denied by the FCC. The commission noted then that there were “no statutory restrictions regarding violent programming.”
Jack Valenti, former head of the Motion Pictures Association of America, told CNN that he couldn’t imagine the FCC fining any station for showing “Saving Private Ryan.”
“I think that this planet would collide with Saturn before that happens,” he said.