- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 27, 2005

Every gyration has been vetted, every costume reviewed, every song scrutinized, and every lighting cue considered.

This season, the National Football League is taking precautions to ensure that there are no malfunctions — wardrobe or otherwise — in its halftime show at the Super Bowl on Feb. 6 in Jacksonville, Fla.

The league prompted nationwide outrage and drew congressional rebukes with its show at last year’s game in which singer Janet Jackson’s right breast — inadvertently, she said — was exposed.

Miss Jackson and singer Justin Timberlake, her accomplice in that performance, are out. Also gone is MTV, which produced the show criticized not just for what Mr. Timberlake described as a “wardrobe malfunction,” but for its overall risque tone.

In this year is caution. The National Football League did not resort to the bland stylings of Up With People to restore the tarnished brand of the Super Bowl, but the league is putting on a show that plays it much safer.

Pop great Paul McCartney is the star of the halftime show; and John Fogerty; the Charlie Daniels Band; Earth, Wind and Fire; and Alicia Keys are among the pre-game entertainers.

The show is being produced by Don Mischer Productions, a company that has put on the opening ceremonies for the Olympics and the annual Kennedy Center Honors.

New policies have joined the new personnel. NFL officials, working with Mischer, have scrutinized every element of the pre-game and halftime entertainment, down to wardrobe, set lists, dance routines and lighting cues.

Mr. McCartney, not seen as a threat to offend anyone, underwent repeated reviews of every nuance of his 12-minute performance.

The NFL last week fired Los Lonely Boys, a Texas rock band scheduled to play at a league-organized concert the night before the game, after the group’s drummer was arrested for marijuana possession.

“We are now extremely involved with every aspect of the [entertainment] production, from soup to nuts,” said Charles Coplin, NFL vice president of programming. “Every part of this is being scrutinized from a technical and logistics standpoint and how the themes and messaging fits in with what we’re trying to do.”

The league also plans a tribute to the U.S. military and a live pre-game appearance on Fox, which is broadcasting the game, by former President Bill Clinton and former President George Bush to call for donations for Indian Ocean tsunami relief.

The stakes are massive for the league, Fox and advertisers.

The Super Bowl generates more than $140 million in advertising revenue for the network broadcasting the game, and the game is the anchor for the television riches that help make the NFL a $5 billion per year sports colossus.

More broadly, the Super Bowl stands as an unofficial American holiday and one of the last truly communal experiences left in pop culture.

However, by focusing so squarely last year on luring young fans, the NFL suddenly found the mainstream appeal of the Super Bowl on tenuous ground.

“Our agenda this year is to make this [game] a celebration of Jacksonville and of American football,” said Scott Ackerson, Fox Sports coordinating producer.

The Jackson incident was just one element of what many saw as an overall coarsening of the Super Bowl: The show, for example, included crotch-grabbing singers, and the advertisements a beer ad featuring flatulent horses.

“Last year was about as crass as it could get. There’s probably nowhere to go but back up,” said David Carter, a Los Angeles sports-industry consultant and university lecturer.

Miss Jackson’s breast-baring prompted the Federal Communications Commission, besieged with a record number of complaints from viewers, to levy a $550,000 fine against CBS, which aired last year’s Super Bowl.

Congress summoned NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and media industry executives to Capitol Hill for a series of tense hearings.

Other corrective measures for this year’s Super Bowl are more subtle. Fox, for example, is changing the name of a pre-game segment from “Best Damn Sports Show Period” to the “Best Darn Super Bowl Road Show Period.”

The advertising during the Super Bowl promises to be considerably tamer, too.

Budweiser, which will air 10 ads during the game, canceled plans for a spot lampooning Miss Jackson’s wardrobe problems. Fox last week rejected an ad from Airborne, a cold remedy, that showed the bare backside of actor Mickey Rooney.

“It’s fair to say that this is going to be the most rehearsed and cleaned-up Super Bowl in its history,” said David Blum, senior vice president of Eisner Communications in Baltimore and a longtime watcher of Super Bowl trends. “And that goes down to the advertising as well. It makes creative people work harder, but I think the NFL has done the ad industry a favor by not allowing the lowest common denominator automatically be the focus of the humor.”

The halftime show still will be broadcast live. The NFL initially sought a five- or ten-second delay, but Fox felt the presence of Mr. McCartney and Don Mischer Productions made a delay unnecessary.

“I feel a great deal of pressure about the Super Bowl. It’s only going to be one of the most-watched programs in TV history,” Mr. Coplin said. “But I’m not worried about whether or not this is going to be appropriate [for family viewing]. I want this to go off without a hitch, and our concern is that we simply execute as we have planned.”

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