US TV network ABC has moved to play down the "reality" aspect of a programme which follows five couples as they seek to adopt a baby.
Host Barbara Walters admitted there had been "a mistake"
The 20/20 show, co-hosted by Barbara Walters, was promoted as being similar to reality shows such as Survivor.
Promotions suggested the couples were "competing" to adopt the child from a 16-year-old mother. In fact the show merely documents the adoption process.
Ms Walters said the promo was "heated" and there had been "a mistake".
She said: "You know what the bad word was? 'Compete'."
An ABC spokesman added: "Clearly there is no competition.
"This is the chronicling of a process that happens every day in this country. We as journalists are just focusing a camera on it.
"For the record, we should say that 20/20 simply reports what happened: we did not choose the participants nor exert any influence on what they did."
In its pre-show publicity, the show's co-host John 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."
The promo prompted a flood of complaints, ABC confirmed.
One complaint, posted on its internet message board, said: "The topic of adoption should not be relegated to a reality show. This is a serious topic and should be treated as such."
The emotional moment when the mother, called Jessica, from Ohio, gives up the baby will be screened on Friday.
Cameras will follow the hopeful couples as they try to convince the mother, and the authorities, that they are suitable parents.