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Porn Cuts Into Cable Cooking Show

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

TV cooking has never been so hot.

Viewers who tuned in to a popular cooking show Wednesday evening got a taste of something quite different: a hard-core pornography video appearing briefly on the screen as the two chefs narrated directions for Latin risotto.

About 9:35 p.m. locally, those watching “Too Hot Tamales” on the TV Food Network described seeing a flash of prurient programming lasting about three seconds, followed by a blank screen, then more than a minute of the pornographic material before the normal broadcast resumed. The footage aired across the nation.

“We were stunned and dismayed,” the show’s hostesses, Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger, said in a statement Thursday. “We have a broad viewing audience that we really care about, and we hate to think of the shock or embarrassment this may have caused any of our viewers.”

They might be relieved to know that in the San Fernando Valley, the bit of porno served up with risotto caused little stir. Local officials at cable operators that carry the TV Food Network said they got few complaints.

A representative of the TCI Cable outlet that serves part of Van Nuys said the calls that did come in were not angry. “I guess they were offended,” said the official, who would not give his full name.

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Another TCI outlet serving the East Valley also reported only a few calls. Cala Vision, serving Calabasas, and Century Communications in the central Valley got no calls, company officials said.

Other areas were not so quiet.

At the TV Food Network’s advertising and sales office in West Hollywood, junior account executive Brian Coolidge said he had been on the phone all day answering questions about the broadcast and described the situation as chaos.

“A lot of people want to know what’s going on, and they’re calling me,” Coolidge said, adding that he had answered more than 50 calls from viewers regarding the interruption.

“There have been some callers who want to register a complaint,” he added.

Feniger and Milliken, who own the Border Grill in Santa Monica and have cooked together for more than 17 years, first heard about the pornographic images Thursday morning when Erica Gruen, TV Food Network president and chief executive officer, phoned their Los Angeles-area homes, a spokeswoman said.

In a statement to the press, Gruen said only 10 seconds of “uncleared and inappropriate footage” appeared on screens across the country.

“This was absolutely unintentional on the part of the network,” Gruen said. “Although we are investigating the cause of the disturbance, including the possibility of tampering, our first and most important effort is taking all steps necessary to ensure this never happens again.

“We sincerely apologize to our viewers for this serious breach.”

Times staff writer Jose Cardenas contributed to this story.


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