There's no doubt about what Mary Hart's greatest assets are. When Entertainment Tonight begins, the lead-in features a shot of Hart's legs. When Mary showed up on Value Television, the now-defunct home merchandising channel, she not only hawked electric corkscrews but gave demonstrations in the art of leg-crossing and uncrossing. In her pink, flower-filled ET dressing room, there's a stuffed teddy bear with a bib that says, "I wish I had legs like Mary Hart." What a smile was to Mona Lisa, what hair was to Samson, legs are to Mary Hart. Everything.

But the powers that be at ET have taken their 34-year-old co-host—the most wholesome and winsome lass in all of TV—and brutally cut her off at the hips. For much of Mary's five years with the show, her legs have enjoyed full exposure. Last fall, however, a new ET set was installed, hiding her from the waist down behind a smoked Plexiglas desk. A few letters of protest trickled in, but most fans held their peace, assuming this status couldn't possibly remain quo. Yet it has. Nearly a year has passed, and Mary's limbs are still in limbo.

But the letters of protest have started pouring in. Prompted perhaps by recent headlines announcing that Lloyd's of London had insured Hart's pegs for $2 million, the fans are giving voice to their outrage. "I am very disappointed with the table they placed in front of your lovely legs," complains Tom of Lake Placid, Fla. "I think I speak for every man who watches your show—the table has to go." "Most of my friends," adds Terry Wong of Reading, Mass., "only watch Entertainment Tonight because of those legs." "I look forward to the end, when you cross your legs to say goodbye," pines Michael D. Helein of Phoenix, Ariz. "I just wish they would not keep you behind that gray piece of Plexiglas."

Frankly, Hart is stunned by the outcry. "I don't think anyone made such a big deal about my legs before," she says with that patented honest-to-gosh look on her face. "Who would ever have dreamed the legs thing would happen?"

More to the point, who is responsible for the most heinous cover-up since Watergate? ET art director Bill Bohnert admits he designed the set, but he says it was only one of a half-dozen sketches he worked up. The final decision was made by then executive producer Jack Reilly, who has since fled—understandably—to Good Morning, America. Reached at GMA, Reilly still defends his choice on aesthetic grounds. "It's twilight time," he says, referring to the hour when ET is seen in most markets. "With the smoked Plexiglas, you get a sense of nighttime in Hollywood."

Some viewers, however, speculate that co-host John Tesh is the real culprit, since his arrival coincided with that of the nefarious new set. Because Tesh is about a foot taller than Hart, his seat has been lowered and Hart's raised. The desk, goes the theory, disguises the fact that while the co-hosts' heads are level, their bottoms are not.

No matter who is to blame, the controversy rages on. Trying to compensate for what has been lost, Nashville station WTVF is preparing a special ET promo tape featuring nothing but Mary's legs. Performance coaches are bemoaning the loss of a valuable educational tool. "Mary sits better than anyone on TV," says New York drama teacher Joe Stockdale. "She crosses her legs in a way that doesn't flatten out or deform the calf." Astonishingly, even Hart's new boyfriend, famed Hollywood lawyer Henry Bushkin, 45, seems unable to offer counsel on this matter. When his other famous client, Johnny Carson, was in divorce proceedings from third wife Joanna, "Bombastic Bushkin" had plenty to say. But when it comes to something really important, like Mary's legs, what advice does Bushkin have? Zip.

Fortunately, Hart is reacting to the uproar with equanimity. "I take it with a sense of humor," she says. "My job is not to show off my legs, but whatever reason people watch is fine by me, as long as they watch! To draw or not to draw attention to one's anatomy?" she asks with a laugh. "Isn't that the question? Maybe on the next set they'll put me in a body cast!" One consolation: Even though we're being deprived of the sight of Mary Hart's lovely legs, we still have the sound of her marvelous wit.