LANSING -- Michigan TV viewers can't get enough
of ABC's "Desperate Housewives."
The rich, spoiled wife is sleeping with her teenage gardener. Another wife "accidentally" poisons her husband, nearly killing him. And it's all told from the viewpoint of a wife who committed suicide in the show's pilot.
Now the show is causing just as much controversy even when it's not on the air. Many viewers were dismayed when a commercial featured a nude Nicolette Sheridan, who plays man-hungry Edie Britt, jumping into the arms of Philadelphia Eagles' wide reciever Terrell Owens.
It hasn't stopped viewers from tuning in most Sunday nights at 9.
"People are being very receptive and being excited," said Lucia Shyiak, sales manager for WBUP, the ABC affiliate in Marquette.
She said she hasn't heard any negative feedback from viewers about the show or about the racy ad for "Desperate Housewives" that aired during a recent Monday Night Football broadcast.
Not everyone is happy with the show, however. Bill Johnson, president of the American Decency Association chapter (ADA) in Fremont, says the show is too trashy for TV, particularly the housewife and "her high school lawn boy.
"They make it seem like it's OK for Gabrielle to have sex with a minor on her dining room table," he said, referring to the show's first episode.
"The images, the illicit sexual relationships, these hot, steamy episodes subplot after subplot, week after week - it's cultural rotting."
Nationally, the ADA is pushing corporations to stop advertising during the show. So far, Johnson said, Burger King, Marshall Field's, Tyson Foods, Lowe's and Yum! Brands, which owns Kentucky Fried Chicken, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut, have suspended their commercials.
"The advertising route has proven to be the best way," he said about boycotting the show.
Johnson added that because of the racy ad, more companies are likely to pull their ads. "I think they'll find that it hurt them, not helped them."
But did the ad help or hurt the show? Nationally, Nielsen ratings showed the show gained more viewers after the ad.
In the Detroit area, "Desperate Housewives" netted a 27.1 rating, meaning 27.1 of the viewing population tuned into ABC that night. On Nov. 7, the show ranked 25.8. "Desperate Housewives" wasn't aired Nov. 14 due to the American Music Awards.
Those kind of rating numbers are unusually high said Doug Fernlock, research director for WOTV, the ABC affiliate in Grand Rapids.
But Fernlock said regional differences affect ratings, too. Rather than using Detroit ratings, WOTV looks to Indianapolis. Major cities such as Detroit and Indianapolis often share their ratings with smaller markets, he said.
"We here in Grand Rapids tend to be closest to Indianapolis in terms of conservatism," he said. "The west side of the state is a religious market."
In Indianapolis, "Desperate Housewives" netted a 16.6 rating on Nov. 21, and a 15.8 on Nov. 7.
But WOTV program director Craig Cole said there hasn't been any outcry from Western Michigan viewers. "I haven't heard a negative comment or e-mail at all."
Neither has Susan Angel, local sales manager for WLAJ, the ABC affiliate in Lansing. "We haven't gotten any backlash at all."
In Flint, there was some controversy before the show even began.
"Before the season even starts, people made judgment calls about shows they've never even seen," said Sara Gallock, program and marketing director for WJRT, the Flint-area ABC affiliate.
"But since it's been on the air, I've received very few letters or e-mails," she said.
Gallock said every show gets negative reactions, but her station has gotten an equal, if not heftier, number of positive reactions to "Desperate Housewives."
"It's very well-viewed and popular among the viewers. If there wasn't a positive reaction, it wouldn't be No. 1," she said.
ADA's Johnson, a former public school teacher, said people are turned on by something "edgy and controversial," but networks have a responsibility to viewers.
"It's very clear this whole matter is sex does sell," he said. "Sure there is an intrigue about this program. But what is the responsible position of the program?
"The ideas in the show are things that undermine parents."
Johnson also said he isn't surprised that ABC, - traditionally a family-friendly network - is going in that direction.
"You cannot look to Disney that everything they produce is 'Pinocchio' - they're far removed from those days. We believe that ABC is 'desperate' themselves to get ratings."