PHILADELPHIA – ABC says it went out of bounds with Terrell Owens and Nicollette Sheridan.

The network’s sports division apologized on Tuesday for its steamy “Monday Night Football” pregame teaser featuring Eagles star Owens and Sheridan, a resident vixen on ABC’s hot new hit “Desperate Housewives.”

The NFL labeled the skit “unsuitable.” The Eagles (but not Owens) said they wished it hadn’t aired. The Federal Communications Commission is reviewing complaints.

“We have heard from many of our viewers . . . and we agree that the placement was inappropriate. We apologize,” the network said in a statement.

Chatrooms were abuzz about the spot, taped Friday in the Eagles’ locker room at Lincoln Financial Field, in which a naked Sheridan leaped into Owens’ arms just minutes before kickoff against the Cowboys.

She persuaded him to skip the game and play with her instead. (In real life, Owens caught three touchdown passes in the 49-21 victory over Dallas.)

Like Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” during the Super Bowl halftime show in February, “MNF’s” suggestive opener triggered irate e-mails and phone calls to the network, the NFL and the FCC.

Jackson’s briefly exposed breast prompted the FCC to issue a proposed $550,000 indecency fine against CBS. The network’s owner is challenging the penalty, a record against a TV broadcaster.

“MNF viewers complained about the spot’s sexuality, particularly at an hour (9 p.m. Eastern time) when children were watching.

Also, some objected to the racially stereotyped overtones of a white woman seducing a powerful black man.

The league labeled the opening “inappropriate and unsuitable” for “Monday Night Football.” “While ABC may have gained attention for one of its other shows, the NFL and its fans lost,” said league representative Greg Aiello.

The NFL does not screen the pregame spoofs before broadcast, Aiello added.

The FCC has received complaints about the segment and is “in the review process,” said an agency representative, offering no details.

WPVI in Philadelphia (Channel 6) logged more than 100 angry phone calls and 50 e-mails, a higher than average response, the station said. The NFL got about 200 complaints. The Eagles are unhappy, too.

While acknowledging that it’s “normal” for teams to cooperate with ABC in developing an “MNF” opener, “after seeing the final piece, we wish it hadn’t aired,” the team said in a statement.

Didn’t the Eagles have a representative in the locker room while the skit was being shot? Wouldn’t red flags have been raised when Sheridan shed her towel? The team had no comment beyond its statement.

Owens said the brouhaha was much ado about nothing. “This is the same kind of stuff we see on soap operas every single day. … They sell products like milk with this kind of stuff. … I really don’t understand why this whole situation is being made into such a big problem.”

“Housewives” and “MNF” are a perfect cross-promotional match.

The rookie soap, featuring gorgeous suburban babes in heat, averages almost 22 million viewers at 9 p.m. Sundays. Ironically, it trounces Sunday-night football on ESPN, which is owned by ABC.

In its 35th season, “MNF” has become increasingly entertainment-oriented as it competes for female viewers and casual sports fans. With an average 16.6 million total viewers, it’s down slightly from last season. But it’s up 3 percent among 18-to-34-year-old men.

For the record, the Eagles-Cowboys game scored 17.1 million viewers, ranking it fifth among the 11 “MNF” telecasts this season.

Locally, it delivered a 34.3 Nielsen rating, which translates to almost one million homes. It rated No. 3 among the nine Eagles broadcasts.

“MNF” bits this season have included actors Dennis Hopper and Sam Elliott, as well as the New York Jets’ Curtis Martin and the Miami Dolphins’ Jason Taylor.

Bill Clinton, no stranger to forward passes, did one when he was president.



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