Too hot for TV? Lowe's, Tyson divorce ABC's 'Housewives'

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ABC's "Desperate Housewives" is fast becoming the hottest show on TV, but it's too hot for some advertisers to handle.

The network is doubling ad prices for the series even as some marketers pull out because of its racy plot lines. Lowe's Home Improvement and Tyson Foods pulled ads out of the show because of content concerns.

Their moves underscore the growing conflict for advertisers as they strive to be in cutting-edge content that attracts a lucrative demographic at the risk of angering watchdog groups over issues of taste or decency.

Advertising Age's Age Madison & Vine newsletter reported that S.C. Johnson pulled its sponsorship from the cross-dressing reality show "He's a Lady" just days before the program's Oct. 19 premiere. That came on the heels of the Federal Communications Commission levying its highest fine yet-$1.18 million-for a single incident of indecency against Fox Broadcasting Co. affiliates for airing an episode of "Married By America" that featured topless dancers. Last month, the Family Friendly Programming Forum, a group of more than 40 of the country's largest marketers, withdrew its funding for NBC's "Father of the Pride," a cartoon series with racy content.

`overwhelming demand'

Still, some advertisers are desperate to get into "Housewives," a drama about four women trying to solve the mystery of their friend's suicide. It is ABC's top-rated show and came in fourth place among households for the week of Oct. 4-10, watched by 13.2 million U.S. homes. Demand is strong enough that ABC doubled the price of a 30-second ad in the show from around $156,000 to $300,000.

"There is overwhelming demand for the show, and the viewers speak for themselves," said Geri Wang, senior VP of ABC prime-time sales. She declined to comment on Lowe's and Tyson's actions.

Both marketers said the show wasn't consistent with the kind of programming they want to associate their products with. Both were targets of a public lobbying effort by Tupelo, Miss.-based American Family Association, which organized a similar national effort against S.C. Johnson's "He's a Lady" sponsorship. The AFA encourages members to send e-mails to marketers that advertise in shows that it deems inappropriate for family viewing.

Chris Ahearn, a spokeswoman for Lowe's, declined to say specifically what was wrong with "Housewives," but said, "We have a strict advertising policy against running in shows that contain gratuitous sex or violence and our advertising agency uses it. We are no longer advertising in the show. This is one that fell through the cracks in terms of being evaluated." She confirmed that the company had received e-mails from the AFA.

value clash

"We don't believe it is consistent with our core values," said Gary Mickelson, a spokesman for Tyson.

A press statement from AFA also listed ConAgra as another marketer it believed was no longer advertising in the show. A ConAgra spokesman said the company ran a spot in the first week of the show but cited company policy against revealing future advertising schedules.

"We are very concerned about the show because it depicts women in a negative light," said Randy Sharp, AFA director of special projects. The characters are "obsessed with sex, and they want to have a catfight over every available man." He said members were concerned about their children being exposed to such material.

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