Monday Night Foolishness

Posted: Nov 19, 2004 12:00 AM

So much for Hollywood and the NFL being shocked -- shocked! -- over Janet Jackson's "accidental" breast nudity. Just when you thought it was safe to go back to watching football, now ABC has decided to cash in on the MTV sleazy-surprise formula. To lead into a "Monday Night Football" contest between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Dallas Cowboys, ABC taped a supposedly satirical pre-game skit featuring Eagles star Terrell Owens and the slutty character "Edie" from ABC's "Desperate Housewives," played by desperate, surgically maintained 41-year-old actress Nicolette Sheridan.
Edie pops into the locker room, fresh from a shower, to tempt Owens by dropping her towel. Owens decides the Eagles will have to win without him while he commits adultery, and the naked woman jumps into his arms. Then we're shown the scene on a television, as two other actresses from "Desperate Housewives" make snarky remarks mocking the raunchiness of their own show.

 On how many levels is this skit stupid? On how many levels is it offensive? ABC heard a few million suggestions within 24 hours and issued an apology. What malarkey it was. This spot was conceived by somebody inside ABC's promotion department, written by somebody at ABC, directed by somebody at ABC, edited by somebody at ABC, and yet the network, a full day later and only after being publicly humiliated, issued a formal statement saying they "agree that the placement was inappropriate" -- as if it, too, was victimized.

 "Placement" is the first offense here. It would be one thing if Hollywood could carve out some safe shows, some havens for families, and leave them alone, while on the other hand sleazing up the 10 p.m. hour with their growing European-style TV-nudity trend. But to put this gratuitous adultery scene on a very popular sports program watched by millions of children, shown live in the Western states at 6 p.m., is inexcusable.

 The second offense is the social message this adult skit sends to satire-impaired youngsters. If the desperate-slut wagon ever pulls into town, then your job and your workmates can irresponsibly be tossed aside for your own personal fulfillment. It's a message boys all too often get from their role models: Become a star, score some big sex, and life is good.

 Even with a full dose of ironic distance, the third offense is the blatant commercialism. Hasn't ABC done enough pounding the controversy of "Desperate Housewives" into this year's scuzzy sensation without spoiling the NFL football experience? Can't we save the commercials for the commercial breaks?

 ABC's defenders -- mostly those outraged by the uproar of parental outrage -- predictably charged hypocrisy. Don't young boys see scantily clad cheerleaders? Or see sexy babes in the beer ads? But trying this line of attack is a little like yelling at Weight Watchers to lay off their lose-weight message because their clients are already fat. Whether they like it or not, parents are ready to explain cheerleaders or beer ads. They weren't ready for the porn-satire introduction on "Monday Night Football."

 While the FCC investigates -- with a verdict you can plan for in, oh, 2006 -- let's not forget the role of the NFL in this. If they didn't know of the skit in advance, that's entirely their fault. Remember how they opened the 2003 season on ABC with Britney Spears selling sex by stripping on stage? Remember their vows after this year's Super Toilet Bowl never to allow this raunch again during their games? No one should buy their condemnations of ABC as fully sincere. That's especially true of the Philadelphia Eagles brass, who clearly should have been aware of how their star player would be filmed. Shame on you, football owners, for thinking that the best way to draw fans is through their crotch. Shame on you for pretending you, too, are innocent victims.

 It's obvious that ABC knew what it was doing, even after the FCC thumped CBS stations with Janet Jackson fines. When asked on CNN if this incident was corporate synergy run amok, Vanity Fair media columnist Michael Wolff was blunt: "No, I think it's important to point out this is money in the bank for everybody involved -- for ABC, for ?Desperate Housewives' and for the NFL ... I'm not sure how much it was planned, but is it being taking advantage of? Is somebody rubbing their hands together? Yes."

 Exactly right. That's who parents need to be concerned about -- the people who rub their hands together as they shock the culture into a hole where it can be shocked no longer.