LOS ANGELES - A scene in TV's "Desperate Housewives" that used Philippine medical education for a punchline prompted angry calls from viewers, an online petition demanding an apology and criticism from Philippine officials.
In the season premiere that aired Sunday on ABC, Teri Hatcher's character, Susan, goes in for a medical checkup and is shocked when the doctor suggests she may be going through menopause.
"Listen, Susan, I know for a lot of women the word `menopause'" has negative connotations. You hear `aging,' `brittle bones,' `loss of sexual desire,'" the gynecologist tells her.
"OK, before we go any further, can I check these diplomas? Just to make sure they aren't, like, from some med school in the Philippines?" Susan fires back.
Viewers called the network to complain but the number of callers wasn't available, an ABC spokesman said Wednesday. As of Wednesday evening, more than 30,000 names were attached to an online petition seeking a network apology.
"A statement that devalues Filipinos in healthcare is extremely unfounded, considering the overwhelming presence of Filipinos and Filipino Americans in the medical field," the petition read in part.
ABC, owned by The Walt Disney Co., responded with a statement Wednesday. ABC said it was considering editing the episode.
"The producers of `Desperate Housewives' and ABC Studios offer our sincere apologies for any offense caused by the brief reference in the season premiere. There was no intent to disparage the integrity of any aspect of the medical community in the Philippines," the statement said.
"As leaders in broadcast diversity, we are committed to presenting sensitive and respectful images of all communities featured in our programs," it concluded.
The TV episode even became an international incident, with reports on it topping Philippine news shows and drawing newspaper headlines as officials there registered their displeasure. Filipinos could judge the scene for themselves when it was posted on YouTube.
In Manila, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said he was writing the producers of the show to seek an apology and note the country's "vehement protest." Senior cabinet member Eduardo Ermita told reporters that an apology should be sought "on behalf of our Filipino professionals."
Kevin Nadal, 29, a Filipino-American college lecturer who lives in New York, posted the online petition calling ABC to task for the scene.
"I had to rewind it over and over again to make sure I heard it right," Nadal said in an interview Wednesday. He watched the episode online after hearing about it from a friend.
"I was immediately offended and, really, just hurt. These days, people are supposed to be more sensitive or more aware of what's considered appropriate," he said, adding that he was hearing from people worldwide who were distressed by the scene. He appreciated ABC's apology, he said, but said he also wanted to see the dialogue removed from future airings and DVDs.
Nadal also suggested that the show's producers and ABC executives could make a more substantial gesture than an apology, through scholarships or donations for Filipino and Filipino-Americans and community groups.
Filipinos and other minorities also should be depicted on TV as "prominent, positive role models," Nadal said.