ABC's first choice for the infamous "Monday Night Football" dropped towel episode wasn't Terrell Owens (search) — it was announcer John Madden (search).

For reasons that are unclear, Madden couldn't find the time to perform for the skit. Owens, the Philadelphia Eagles receiver, filled in for him in the steamy sketch that drew viewer protests and a network apology, said ABC entertainment president Stephen McPherson on Sunday.

In the spoof that preceded the football game Nov. 15, "Desperate Housewives" actress Nicollette Sheridan (search) persuaded Owens to skip the game by dropping the towel wrapped around her and jumping into his arms.

ABC initially thought it would be funny to have the, uh, less attractive Madden as the subject of Sheridan's ardor, McPherson said.

The towel-dropping was another last-minute addition to the script that plainly backfired, said Marc Cherry, executive producer of "Desperate Housewives," who helped write it.

Cherry said it was all a mistake. But he and McPherson both said they were surprised at the reaction.

"I feel really bad about it," Cherry said. "I didn't want to upset people. I didn't realize that 'Monday Night Football' was such a family viewing experience. I wouldn't let my 5-year-old watch beer commercials with big-busted cheerleaders, but that's just me."

Sheridan, appearing before television writers Sunday, said the purpose was simply to amuse people.

"Taking a pop culture incident like that and having it take precedence over the underlying problems of the world was absurd," Sheridan said.