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    "Desperate" Controversy Grows

    Fans of ABC's Desperate Housewives can buy officially licensed T-shirts, jackets and "Desperate Housewife on Board" car signs, but, notably, no towels.

    After this week, the housewives may well be done with towels.

    The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday was still counting the phone calls, emails and other communiques from viewers over Desperate star Nicollette Sheridan's towel-dropping routine on Monday Night Football. Per FCC spokeswoman Rosemary Kimball, more than 50,000 comments have been received.

    The FCC can't yet say how many of those comments are complaints. Publicly, the chorus of critics is growing.

    FCC Chairman Michael Powell wondered "if Walt Disney would be proud." (ABC, network home to both MNF and Desperate Housewives, is owned by Disney.) The Philadelphia Eagles, whose star wide receiver Terrell Owens costarred in the bit with Sheridan, said the team "wish[ed] it hadn't aired." Owens, who earlier joked he used the segment to showcase his acting skills, apologized--sort of.

    In a routine press conference Thursday in Philadelphia, the outspoken Owens, no stranger to controversy, said he was sorry if the Desperate Housewives opening had been "taken out of context [by] a lot of people."

    "I felt like it was clean, the organization thought it was a clean skit," Owens said, per the Eagles' official Website. "For a Monday Night Football game, we were just trying to have some fun. I thought it was a fun skit. That was it."

    Sheridan and Owens, with the Eagles' approval, filmed the segment last Friday in the team locker room. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, it took 40 takes for Sheridan, as her Desperate Housewives character, to properly tempt Owens. In the bit, which opened Monday's prime-time broadcast, the seduction is completed when Sheridan drops the towel she's wearing and launches her apparently naked self into the arms of the uniform-clad Owens.

    The fact that Owens is black and Sheridan is white has added another layer to the story. Indianapolis Colts head coach Tony Dungy, who is black, told reporters this week that he found the MNF bit "insensitive." Doug Darroch, deputy sports editor of the Philadelphia Daily News, said he heard from readers who complained that "if it's Vinny Testaverde," a white quarterback on the Dallas Cowboys, catching Sheridan instead of Owens there's no beef.

    Darroch himself wasn't so sure about the latter argument. He said he thinks the bit was provocative no matter who appeared in it. "You're basically talking about a sex position there," Darroch said of the closing Sheridan-Owens clinch.

    On Tuesday, ABC Sports issued an apology for the segment. There was no word if it intended to address the subject on air with next week's MNF broadcast.

    The Desperate Housewives locker room affair is the biggest broadcast controversy to erupt since, well, last week when FCC received thousands of complaints over ABC's unedited Nov. 11 broadcast of the 1999 film, Saving Private Ryan.

    In February, outraged viewers outdid themselves lodging more than 500,000 gripes with the FCC over Janet Jackson's bared Super Bowl breast. CBS, which broadcast the game, paid for the ire--hit with a record $550,000 fine.

    An FCC investigation into Sheridan and Owens' pregame antics has not been launched--although its chairman sounds ready for one.

    "[Broadcast companies] seem to be continuing to keep the issue at the forefront, keep it hot and steamy in order to get financial gains and the free advertising it provides," Powell said to CNBC.

    Even before its MNF crossover, Desperate Housewives was the most talked-about show of the fall season. The campy soap has emerged as a Top 5 hit, averaging 21.8 million viewers. On the bench last weekend due to the American Music Awards, the show is scheduled to return to the air on Sunday, with an episode called "Anything You Can Do."

    No word if towel-dropping fits the bill for "anything."

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