A scene in the season preem of ABC’s “Desperate Housewives” that used Philippine medical education as a punchline prompted angry calls from viewers, an online petition demanding an apology and criticism from Philippine officials.
In the episode that aired Sunday, Teri Hatcher’s character, Susan, goes in for a medical checkup and is shocked when the doctor suggests she may be going through menopause.
Susan responds: “OK, 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?”
Viewers called the network to complain, but the number of callers wasn’t available, an ABC spokesman said Wednesday. As of Wednesday evening, however, more than 30,000 names were attached to an online petition seeking a network apology.
“A statement that devalues Filipinos in health care is extremely unfounded, considering the overwhelming presence of Filipinos and Filipino Americans in the medical field,” the petition read in part.
The episode even became an international incident, with reports on it topping Philippine news shows and drawing newspaper headlines as officials in the country registered their displeasure.
ABC responded with a statement Wednesday.
“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 statement said. “As leaders in broadcast diversity, we are committed to presenting sensitive and respectful images of all communities featured in our programs,” it concluded.
In Manila, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said he was writing the producers of the show to seek an apology and note the country’s “vehement protest.” Senior cabinet member Eduardo Ermita told reporters that an apology should be sought “on behalf of our Filipino professionals.”
ABC said Wednesday that it may edit the episode.