After receiving complaints from viewers and the NFL, ABC Sports apologized yesterday for airing a sexually suggestive segment using Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Terrell Owens and several stars of "Desperate Housewives" to introduce its "Monday Night Football" game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Eagles.
"It was the most disgraceful thing I've ever seen," Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney said in a telephone interview yesterday. "It's on at 9 o'clock. Kids are watching, and everyone starts to think this is the NFL. I've written a letter to the commissioner [Paul Tagliabue], and I don't think he can be very happy about it, either. We can't allow that kind of thing to happen."
In a prepared statement, ABC, which is owned by the Walt Disney Company, said, "We have heard from many of our viewers about last night's 'Monday Night Football' opening segment and we agree that the placement was inappropriate. We apologize."
The segment opened with actress Nicollette Sheridan, clad in only a towel, standing near Owens in the Eagles' locker room. On ABC's new hit series, Sheridan plays a character named Edie Britt, a multiple divorcee who has had a number of sexual conquests in her fictional neighborhood.
Sheridan: "My house burned down and I need to take a long, hot shower. . . . So where are you off to looking so pretty?"
Owens: "Baby, it's 'Monday Night Football.' Game starts in 10 minutes."
Sheridan: "Oh, you and your little games. . . . I've got a game we can play."
Later, with her back to the camera, Sheridan dropped the towel and Owens said, "Aw, hell, the team's going to have to win one without me."
At that point, she jumped into his arms, and the scene cuts to two other "Desperate Housewives" actresses, Felicity Huffman and Teri Hatcher, who uttered MNF's signature slogan: "Are you ready for some football?"
A Federal Communications Commission spokesman said the commission had received e-mail and telephone calls from viewers who were not happy with the scene and indicated the FCC likely will look into whether ABC violated broadcasting rules and standards. An NFL spokesman indicated the league had received similar complaints from unhappy viewers.
The NFL issued a statement saying: "ABC's opening was inappropriate and unsuitable for a 'Monday Night Football' audience. While ABC may have gained attention for one of its other shows, the NFL and its fans lost."
The scene was no surprise to the Eagles. It was taped Friday in their locker room at Lincoln Financial Field. Sheridan flew in from Los Angeles that day and the segment was taped between 5:30 and 8 p.m.
"We appreciate that ABC has taken responsibility and has apologized for the opening of 'Monday Night Football,' " the Eagles said in a statement. "It is normal for teams to cooperate with ABC in the development of an opening for its broadcast. After seeing the final piece, we wish it hadn't aired."
An Eagles source said the team was aware of ABC's plans to use a "Desperate Housewives" theme but indicated that no one from the team had seen the final product until it aired. The source indicated that the team "dropped the ball on this" and should have been more vigilant.
Owens, who caught six passes for 134 yards and three touchdowns in Philadelphia's 49-21 victory over the Cowboys in Dallas, could not be reached to comment.
In February, CBS and its parent company, Viacom, came under heavy criticism for the Super Bowl halftime show produced by Viacom's MTV subsidiary. In that now-famous incident, entertainer Justin Timberlake pulled off part of a costume worn by Janet Jackson, exposing her right breast. In September, the FCC fined CBS's 20 network-owned stations $550,000 over the incident. CBS has appealed the ruling.