NEW YORK – Bodacious models wearing sexy lingerie, tans and not much else will jiggle down the catwalk and into America's living rooms Thursday night.
ABC is putting the boob back in boob tube by airing the Victoria's Secret holiday fashion show for the first time on primetime, at 9 p.m. No doubt ratings will soar, but is this a television program or just a long-legged infomercial?
"This is commercialism at a pretty basic level," said Mike Sweeney, assistant head of the Communication Department at Utah State University. "It's an underhanded way to get a product advertised on TV."
The fashion show, featuring Tyra Banks, Heidi Klum and 23 other models clad in skimpy lingerie, will be well padded with additional entertainment: Opera sensation Andrea Bocelli, a 50-piece orchestra, singer Mary J. Blige and comedy skits to round out the show.
Actor Rupert Everett will host the elaborate $5 million holiday-themed production, taped Tuesday in New York City's Bryant Park.
Although the show will surely titillate viewers, experts say showing such risqué material could actually hamper ABC.
"It could potentially backfire if ABC is seen as compromising its integrity in any way," Sweeney said. "They could get a ratings spike that night, but in the long run, if they keep showing shows like this, ratings could decline."
But Ed Razek, marketing director for Victoria's Secret said it didn't take much arm twisting to persuade the network to air the show. A few minutes after he started his pitch last spring, executives told him they would broadcast the event.
Andrea Wong, senior vice president of alternative series and specials at ABC explained, "We looked at it and, wow, I had no idea it was that kind of spectacle. There is clearly a big interest. It makes sense to elevate it to TV."
Razek said getting the show on television is only part of the goal. "The victory wasn't getting on the air," he said. "The victory is getting on the air and doing something interesting once you're on the air."
So it's on the air. But who will watch? The skin fest is going up against heavy-hitters like NBC's Will & Grace and CBS's CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, which was the second highest rated show last week with 25.1 million viewers.
"The core audience will probably be women interested in fashion," said Sweeney, "but then a broader audience will be made up of ordinary people, being curious voyeurs wondering how much ABC will show and Joe six-pack, who really wants to see some T&A."
Sharen Turney, president and CEO of Victoria's Secret Direct told Fox News, "I think people thought of lingerie as utilitarian. We've been able to turn lingerie into fashion."
Americans are slowly starting to be able to laugh again after months of living in terror, but is this skimpy spectacle pushing the boundaries too far?
"I'm ready to see something besides war on TV," said Sweeney. "Yes, I watch the news, but sometimes we have to relax. Within bounds of reason a little frivolity is terrific and we need that now."
Sweeney described this type of program as a guilty pleasure. "This is not something you brag to your friends that you watched the next day around the water cooler."
But in an effort to elevate the show, the show's creators used more than just underwire for eye-popping special effects. In a nod to the "Angels" campaign the genetic wonders soar above the runway with angel wings strapped on their backs — and not much else. And while a cold shower may have been more appropriate, confetti snow fell on the live audience Tuesday evening, creating a white Christmas dreamscape.
This sexy show falls during sweeps, a critical period for stations to gain viewers. Networks are notorious for going to extreme lengths to draw audiences.
In addition to the lingerie show, models are scattered throughout ABC's lineup this whole week, appearing on Spin City and on a special supermodel edition of Who Wants to be a Millionaire, which airs prior to the fashion show.
Whether ABC's tactics to draw viewers will work is yet to be seen, but the chances look good for them. Back in February 1999 Razek produced a Web fashion show for Victoria's Secret online, which drew the largest number of people ever trying to log onto a Web site simultaneously. The site crashed from the heavy traffic within 20 minutes.
This kind of interest convinced Razek that a television show would be successful. And ABC needs a boost. After canceling Bob Patterson and What About Joan? this season, the network is scrambling to fill out its primetime line-up. Tasteful or not, a sexy, sassy fashion show could be just the lift they need.
"It's appealing to basic human emotions and sensations," Sweeney said. "I don't think there's a lot of high-brow content here.
"I can't imagine what will be on TV next, maybe women mud wrestling?"
The Associated Press contributed to this report.