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ABC throws in the towel on NFL tiff

Rep says web didn't clear spot with league

NEW YORK — First Janet Jackson. And now Nicolette Sheridan.

The National Football League forced ABC to issue a rare public apology for producing a raunchy promo preceding Monday’s NFL game featuring Sheridan, one of the stars of “Desperate Housewives,” clad in nothing but a towel, successfully seducing the Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Terrell Owens.

An NFL spokesman said ABC didn’t clear the spot with the league, which got dozens of emails and phone calls protesting the bawdiness of the tongue-in-cheek promo.

Still doing damage control from Jackson’s breast-baring during a halftime performance at last season’s Super Bowl, the NFL put out the following statement Tuesday: “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.”

Within a few hours, ABC had gotten the message, acknowledging in a statement that the taped intro to the game was indeed “inappropriate” and saying, simply, “We apologize.”

ABC was quick to cave in because it’s holding talks with the NFL over a new six-year contract for both “Monday Night Football” and its sister network ESPN’s “Sunday Night Football.” The pressure is on ABC to wrap up the deals because Fox and CBS concluded their contract renewals of Sunday-afternoon games earlier this month.

“The intent of ABC was not malicious,” said Bill Carroll, VP and director of programming for Katz TV, a company that represents hundreds of TV stations. “ABC was really trying to help promote both ‘Desperate Housewives’ and ‘Monday Night Football.’ ”

Carroll said “Housewives” probably needs the attention less than football, because it’s such a big hit. “The NFL is really the one that’s getting the benefit of being associated with the most popular and talked-about series of the new season,” he added.

In the spot, Sheridan is having no luck getting Owens to respond to her entreaties until she drops the towel, at which point he succumbs, saying, “Aw hell, the team’s going to have to win this one without me.”

The scene then shifts to a living room where two other “Housewives” stars, Teri Hatcher and Felicity Huffman, are watching the Sheridan-Owens byplay on a TV set. “Oh my God,” Hatcher says, “Who watches this trash? Sex, lies and betrayal.”

Hatcher changes the channel and stumbles on the theme music for “Monday Night Football.” In unison, Huffman and Hatcher sing out, “Are you ready for some football.”

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