At the Super Bowl, Janet Jackson flashed a breast. On Monday night, Nicollette Sheridan did her one better.
ABC Sports was apologizing Tuesday over a filmed bit on Monday Night Football in which Sheridan, as her vampy Desperate Housewives character, removed a towel and showed off her assets to Philadelphia Eagles star Terrell Owens in the locker room.
The segment, aired at the beginning of the broadcast seen at 9 p.m. on the East Coast, and even earlier in other time zones, closed with the ostensibly naked Sheridan leaping into Owens' arms, and the ostensibly distracted Owens vowing to sit out the game. ("Aw, hell, the team's going to have to win without me," said a thespian-challenged Owens.)
Unlike Jackson, whose wardrobe malfunction prompted a Super Bowl-sized controversy, Sheridan didn't flash the camera--only her bare back was shown on screen. But enough flesh was bared to leave ABC red-faced.
"The placement of last night's Monday Night Football opening segment was inappropriate. We apologize," ABC Sports said Tuesday.
Still smarting over Janet Jackson, the National Football League sounded testy about seeing its teams in bed with Desperate Housewives.
"ABC's opening was inappropriate and unsuitable for our Monday Night Football audience," a league spokesman said in a statement. "While ABC may have gained attention for one of its other shows, the NFL and its fans lost."
The Federal Communications Commission, currently sorting through objections over last week's unedited rebroadcast of Saving Private Ryan on ABC, acknowledged Tuesday it had received calls from viewers about the Monday Night Football segment. FCC spokeswoman Rosemary Kimball said it wasn't known how many calls had been received, or if they were calls of complaint.
The sports pages, at least, weren't filled with words of praise for the Sheridan-Owens sketch.
"I think ABC Sports should be absolutely, positively ashamed of itself," Sports Illustrated writer Peter King wrote on CNNSI.com on Tuesday.
In the Philadelphia Daily News, deputy sports editor Doug Darroch put it succinctly: "Nice job, ABC."
At the conservative lobbying group Family Research Council, however, fire was being held.
"We are not going to go out on a limb and say this is indecency," said Pat Truman, senior legal advisor for the organization, currently leading the offensive on the Saving Private Ryan front. "Others will."
Truman said he was "shocked" by the bit, and found it in "bad taste," but said it probably didn't violate FCC guidelines.
Desperate Housewives, a soapy, campy take on suburbia, is the biggest new hit series of the fall season, averaging 21.8 million viewers, and alienating a few sponsors along the way. Sheridan, a veteran TV seductress with notches on her bedpost dating back to Knots Landing, costars on Housewives as Wisteria Lane's especially desperate divorcee, Edie Britt.
According to the Philadelphia Daily News, Sheridan filmed the Monday Night Football segment last Friday in the Eagles locker room.
Although the Eagles gave ABC access to shoot the segment, the NFL's Brian McCarthy said officials saw the completed bit for the first time Monday night, along with viewers.
"We do not have script approval over these types of promotions," McCarthy said.
In the wake of the Janet Jackson incident, the NFL has vowed to exert more control over its next Super Bowl halftime show. The league also is said to be seeking more input over promo bits, such as the Desperate Housewives segment, in its ongoing Monday Night Football contract renegotiations with ABC.
The breast-baring Jackson stunt resulted in a $550,000 FCC-imposed fine against CBS, which aired last February's Super Bowl.
The Family Research Council, meanwhile, is pressuring the FCC to hit ABC with a "nominal" fine, as Truman put it, for airing Saving Private Ryan, four-letter swear words and all, in the 8 p.m. hour last Thursday.
About the only one seemingly unfazed by Monday's latest broadcast brouhaha was Sheridan's costar.
After Sheridan dropped her towel, Terrell Owens went out and scored three touchdowns.