'Law & Order' Out of Order: FCC Fines NBC U

Broadcasters are known for hounding the FCC to crack down on pirate-­radio operators, the unlicensed broadcasters who beam political rants, underground club music and anything else they want from jury-rigged basement transmitters. Pirates rarely check whether the channels they commandeer are open, and consequently their broadcasts can produce interference that wreaks havoc on legally operating stations.

It was embarrassing enough, then, that on June 8 the FCC's enforcement bureau accused that upstanding citizen of the broadcasting world, NBC Universal, of piratical behavior, fining the company $10,000 for unlicensed radio transmissions. But even worse: the source of the illegal transmissions was NBC's Law & Order.

No, Dennis Farina and S. Epatha Merkerson weren't taking advantage of a little down time to D.J. a rogue jazz program. The Law & Order crew in New York was using high-powered walkie-talkies, officially known as portable radio transceivers, to communicate during production of the show, causing interference on the city's public-safety radio pool—the communications setup for New York's police, fire and other emergency departments. After receiving a complaint on March 22 (the FCC declined to identify who filed it), an agent from the FCC's New York field office used a mobile transmission-monitoring vehicle to track the offending signal. The sleuth ended up at Universal's studio at Pier 62 on Manhattan's West Side.

NBC U explained that the L&O crew wasn't aware that they needed a license for the radios. The studio had relied on an outside vendor to supply radios for years but then decided to purchase its own equipment instead. The seller never let on about that little license thing.

“Universal Television takes seriously its obligations to comply with FCC requirements,” the company said in a statement. But the studio also said that, although it “disagrees with the current outcome,” it is reviewing the decision and considering its options. And while you guys are discussing your options, play it safe and use a land line.

Rating Rigas

After months of delays, John Rigas likely faces sentencing this week for the multibillion­-dollar fraud at Adelphia Communications. He has certainly rallied the troops to lobby Federal Judge Leonard Sands to show leniency.

In a standard part of the sentencing dance—marshalling supporters to write to the judge attesting to the defendant's good character—Rigas' supporters have made the pitch that he is a good-hearted, small-town fellow who, though he has been fabulously wealthy, is also the sort who's willing to help strangers. Or so we've gleaned from court documents filed by both sides.

One man believes Rigas saved his son's life. The injured boy needed to be rushed by plane from Coudersport in rural Pennsylvania to Pittsburgh for treatment, his father told Judge Sands, but the plane broke down. Rigas, who lives in Coudersport, had just landed in his own plane at the airport and offered to provide transportation.

Prosecutors dismiss this kind of endorsement as coming from people who never “knew of or saw the criminal acts proven at trial.” They point to the case of Rigas' sole character witness, David Acker, a lawyer and CEO of a Coudersport hospital, who praised Rigas for flying a friend with bone cancer to Florida for a fishing trip. But as prosecutors pointed out to Judge Sands, when Rigas also lent Acker's own family his condo in Cancun for two days, Acker might have thought it was what he called “an act of kindness,” but unbeknownst to him, Rigas billed Adelphia $4,900 as a business expense for the Ackers' stay. And he claimed the family kicked back in the Cancun condo for two weeks, not two days.

Lawyers for Rigas, the former Adelphia chairman, and his son, ex-CFO Tim Rigas, are hoping Judge Sands will sentence the two to probation or house confinement. Prosecutors are seeking 215 years apiece in federal prison.

Reality Check

In an ongoing quest to keep readers abreast of where reality TV is heading, Flash! presents this Casting Notice of the Week, culled from an anonymous Craigslist posting:

“We're looking for 12 very wealthy people to take the ultimate gamble on a unique reality show. Are you a millionaire? A lottery winner? A socialite? Perfect!!! You'll gamble your own money for a chance to win the $3,000,000 pot—Winner takes all! The competitions will be tough and the challenges will be unique, but the reward is worth it.”