Let’s see if we’ve got this straight:

Showing Nicollette Sheridan in a pregame promotion for “Monday Night Football” wearing nothing but a towel?

Bad.

Showing the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders repeatedly during the game, all 38 of them dressed in costumes that, sewn together, still wouldn’t be enough material for a decent towel?

Good.

Listening to ABC fake an apology and watching the NFL recoil in mock horror because somebody forgot the difference between league-sanctioned “cheesecake” and the unsanctioned variety?

Priceless.

In a statement that could have been written even before the spot featuring “Desperate Housewives” star Sheridan and Philadelphia wide receiver Terrell Owens aired, ABC said, “We have heard from many of our viewers about last night’s ‘MNF’ opening segment and we agree that the placement was inappropriate. We apologize.”

Not to be outdone, the NFL called the segment “inappropriate and unsuitable for our “Monday Night Football’ audience.”

“While ABC may have gained attention for one of its other shows,” league spokesman Greg Aiello said, “the NFL and its fans lost.”

Please.

Both parties got exactly what they bargained for.

ABC, seeking to revive its sagging fortunes in the network wars and eager to cross-promote its wildly popular, nighttime drama, “Desperate Housewives,” knew just what it was doing. It couldn’t buy the kind of publicity that the brief spot, which ended with Owens deciding that he could skip the opening kickoff, generated in less than 24 hours.

The NFL, meanwhile, got some badly needed buzz for its flagship show. Ratings for “MNF” have been declining steadily over the years, but it’s a safe bet that the demographic group so prized by the league and its advertisers – males 18 to 49 – will be tuning in week after week now, if only to catch the intro and see if something else “inappropriate” makes the final cut.

Left untouched, however, was the NFL’s own scantily clad cheerleaders on the sidelines and its unending commercial barrage of beer, violent video games and erectile-dysfunction ads. It’s not easy to break through that kind of clutter.

Fox and CBS just handed the NFL more than a billion dollars for a new television contract, and all three of them signed off on the deal knowing that the revenue from ad sales doesn’t cover the cost of showing the games. The networks don’t turn a profit on the games, but use them instead to sell their other shows and turn a profit on those.

Promos for “Desperate Housewives” have been running during NFL games all season. The one that ran Monday night was a lot tamer than the actual show itself. Pretending to be shocked in this instance is the same kind of dishonesty the league shows when it fines players for cheap shots and choreographed celebrations while licensing video games that reward kicking and stomping opponents, then dancing over them in the end zone.

Here’s hoping that the FCC sticks somebody with a bill for this latest episode, but not because it sends the wrong message to kids. NFL telecasts are already so packed with mixed messages that once that got started, the fines would continue without end.

The point is to stop the NFL and the rest of its television partners from hatching any more outrageous promotional schemes. Because while bad taste is not a capital offense yet, at the very least, it should carry a stiff price tag.



Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.