ABC, NFL Apologize for MNF Opener

Nov 16, 2004  •  Post A Comment

ABC and the NFL are apologizing for the opening of last night’s “Monday Night Football” broadcast.

The opening showed Nicolette Sheridan of ABC’s hit “Desperate Housewives” cavorting in a locker room-wearing, then not wearing, a towel-with Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Terrell Owens. “The placement of last night’s opening segment was inappropriate. We apologize,” ABC said in a statement.

ABC and the NFL had discussions about the segment after it aired, according to spokespeople for both organizations. ABC told the NFL that it has “heard from many of our viewers” about the opening, which aired at 9 p.m. (ET), and earlier in other parts of the country. “We agree the placement was inappropriate.”

One source indicated that heads were rolling at ABC Sports because of the incident.

The NFL’s statement said that “ABC’s opening was inappropriate and unsuitable for our ‘Monday Night Football’ audience. While ABC may have gained attention for one of its other shows, the NFL and its fans lost.”

ABC Sports and ESPN are in contract discussions regarding the renewal of the “Monday Night Football” and “Sunday Night Football” franchises.

ESPN ran afoul of the NFL’s sensibilities with its series “Playmakers,” which portrayed players using drugs and having sex with groupies. The NFL last apologized for one of its broadcasters after this year’s MTV-produced Super Bowl halftime show, in which Janet Jackson exposed her nipple.

In the opening, Ms. Sheridan met Mr. Owens in the locker room. After a few words, she dropped the towel and jumped into the player’s arms. Then the camera shifted to a living room scene, where fellow “Housewives” stars Teri Hatcher and Felicity Huffman were watching the game on TV. Ms. Hatcher said, “Oh my God, who watches this trash? Sex, lies, deception,” and changed the channel. Then she and Ms. Huffman called out, “Are you ready for some football?”

Alan Frank, president of Post-Newsweek Stations, said neither of his ABC affiliates-WPLG-TV in Miami and KSAT-TV in San Antonio-received any viewer complaints about the “Desperate” promotional spot. (The Post-Newsweek ABC affiliates also aired “Saving Private Ryan” last week and received not one viewer complaint, Mr. Frank said.)

Mr. Frank said he was watching “MNF” when the “Desperate” spot aired and that he personally had no negative reaction to it. “I think they tried something that was a fun cross-promotion and it didn’t work,” was his assessment.