08/29/2006 at 09:00 AM EDT
NBC executives apologized Monday for the Emmy Awards opening skit that showed host Conan O'Brien surviving a plane crash and aired the same day a real crash in Kentucky killed 49 people.
"Our hearts and prayers go out to the many families who lost loved ones in the plane crash in Kentucky on Sunday, and to the entire community that has suffered this terrible loss," NBC said in a statement Monday, according to the Associated Press.
"In no way would we ever want to make light of this terrible tragedy," the statement continued. "The filmed opening during the Emmy telecast was meant to spoof some of television's most well-known scenes. The timing was unfortunate, and we regret any unintentional pain it may have caused."
The prerecorded skit, part of a sequence of spoofs of TV shows that also included O'Brien's dropping in on The Office and South Park, was broadcast as part of the live Emmy telecast just hours after a commuter jet taking off in Lexington, Ky., crashed into a field, killing everyone aboard except the co-pilot.
The skit was criticized on Web sites Sunday night, with the Los Angeles Times's columnist calling it "cringe-inducing" and "of questionable taste."
Tim Gilbert, general manager of NBC's Lexington affiliate, WLEX, also complained about the skit. "It was a live telecast. We were completely helpless," Gilbert told the Lexington Herald-Leader. "By the time we began to react, it was over. At the station, we were as horrified as they were at home."
This year's Emmys delivered the second-lowest ratings for the telecast since 1991, with an audience of 16.1 million viewers, compared to 18.68 million last year, according to Nielsen Media Research. The 1991 program drew just 13.7 million viewers.