10 Years Ago: Motley Crue Sue NBC Over Network Ban
When you put Mötley Crüe on live television, you never know what’s going to happen. Just ask former Tonight Show host Jay Leno.
Leno invited the band onto the Tonight Show for his New Year’s celebration in 2005 — a performance that, as you can see in the video above, included a bit of off-the-cuff celebratory profanity from singer Vince Neil to drummer Tommy Lee.
Standards for language are a little looser during the late-night hours, but wishing someone a “happy f—ing New Year” is generally frowned upon no matter what time of day it is, and the FCC got involved after registering a number of complaints; meanwhile, Tonight Show owners NBC issued their own response, reportedly banning the band from the network.
The members of the group, who were then out supporting their Red, White & Crüe hits compilation, didn’t take kindly to being closed off from a potential promotional avenue, and decided to fight back by suing NBC for violating their free-speech rights and negatively impacting concert tickets and album sales.
According to the Crüe, they tried to issue a public apology for Neil’s slip-up, but were prevented by network brass — who then allegedly pulled the plug on a subsequent planned appearance on Last Call With Carson Daly. According to the band’s attorneys, this constituted unfair treatment since other acts (such as John Mayer and System of a Down) had blurted out their own bad words without similar reprisal.
Ultimately, the suit appears to have been settled out of court, and in any event, the ban didn’t hold — in fact, Leno’s successor Jimmy Fallon hosted Mötley Crüe on The Tonight Show in 2014 — but at least one First Amendment attorney thought the band, while perhaps technically correct in terms of inconsistent decency standards, faced a steep uphill climb in its fight against the network.
“The day is coming for the courts to finally define indecency,” lawyer Doug Mirell told CNN. “The problem right now is that the FCC is purporting to enforce what I think is a vague standard. … In regards to this lawsuit, they don’t have a chance in hell. But it sure does bring in a lot of publicity.”