The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Thursday, April 29, 2004  

ABC Backtracks on “20/20” Ads

“We were just kidding.”

That about sums up the latest word from Barbara Walters of ABC’s “20/20” regarding tonight’s show, a program that will include a feature in which a pregnant 16-year-old girl will decide which of five couples can adopt her child.

According to today’s Philadelphia Inquirer, “Walters Apologizes for ‘20/20’ Ads,” by Alfred Lubrano, Walters “apologized for the promos yesterday on ‘The View’ and in her regular weekly e-mail. ‘Promos sometimes get a little heated, and we made a mistake,’ she said.”

Lubrano quotes Jeffrey Schneider, vice president of ABC News: “The problem with the promo was that it contained the language of reality television. It left people with a severely wrong impression with what the documentary is about. We heard from a lot of people, and we changed our promo.”

It would appear that “impression” was the intention from the start. Lubrano reports:

Walters and her 20/20 cohost, John Stossel, fueled the controversy about the show, which will air during the May sweeps.

Promoting the report last Friday, Stossel said, “Barbara will bring you what might be called the ultimate reality show. As you watch, a pregnant teenager will decide which of five couples gets her baby.”

Borrowing a line from one of the prospective parents, Walters said, “We were joking about the fact that it’s like ‘The Bachelor’ or ‘The Bachelorette.’ You are in or out tonight.”

In an advance-screening copy of the show, which airs locally at 10 p.m. on WPVI-TV (Channel 6), Walters talks about an “extraordinary competition.” She labels the parents who want to adopt the baby “finalists,” and borrows from game-show parlance by referring to a “lightning round” of questions that the birth mother will ask the prospective parents.

Hype. Sweeps. Bad taste. Another day in TV land.

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