Desperate Housewives is off to a somewhat unhealthy start.
An exchange between Susan (Teri Hatcher) and her doctor in Sunday's season premiere that used Filipino medical education as a punchline has drawn complaints from viewers, inspired an online petition demanding an apology and prompted complaints from Philippine officials.
In the episode, Susan goes in for a checkup and, much to her dismay, is informed by her doctor that she may be entering menopause.
"Listen, Susan, I know for a lot of women the word 'menopause' has negative connotations. You hear 'aging,' 'brittle bones,' 'loss of sexual desire,'" the gynecologist tells her.
"Okay, before we go any further, can I check these diplomas? Just to make sure they aren't, like, from some med school in the Philippines?" Susan snaps in response.
Cue the outrage
An unknown number of viewers placed calls to ABC to complain, while an online petition decrying the incident had received more than 30,000 signatures as of Wednesday evening.
"A statement that devalues Filipinos in healthcare is extremely unfounded, considering the overwhelming presence of Filipinos and Filipino Americans in the medical field," the petition read in part.
ABC was quick to respond with a mea culpa Wednesday, clarifying that the line was not meant to offend and stating that it was considering editing the episode.
"The producers of Desperate Housewives and ABC Studios offer our sincere apologies for any offense caused by the brief reference in the season premiere. There was no intent to disparage the integrity of any aspect of the medical community in the Philippines," the network's statement said.
"As leaders in broadcast diversity, we are committed to presenting sensitive and respectful images of all communities featured in our programs."
In the Philippines, reports about the show's foot-in-mouth moment topped news shows and made headlines, with elected officials expressing dismay over the perceived slur.
Filipino Senator Ramon "Bong" Revilla, Jr. said the network's statement was not sufficient to make amends.
"The apology is not enough. It is not commensurate to the damage created by the derogatory remark made by the show," Revilla said in a statement.
"The makers of Desperate Housewives should formally and publicly express their apology in their next episode to signify sincerity. The mere sending of an apology through media bureaus would not heal the wound it inflicted to Filipino medical practitioners and the Filipino nation in general," he added.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III concurred, stating he was writing the producers to demand another apology and register the country's "vehement protest," while senior cabinet member Eduardo Ermita told reporters a more elaborate display of remorse "on behalf of our Filipino professionals" was only fitting.
Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago urged viewers to stop watching the show altogether, pointing out that a drop in the ratings could result in the show being pulled from the air. She also suggested that local television station Studio 23 should stop broadcasting the show.
"I respectfully suggest that as a measure of Philippine displeasure, the domestic commercial channel should stop airing the show, or cancel its contract," she said.
No word on whether the station was taking that measure under advisement.
In the United States, at least, the show was a hit, drawing around 19 million viewers and ranking number one for the night. Even so, those numbers were down 23 percent from last year's season premiere.