Media Relations: media commentary and criticism

Thursday, June 30, 2005


-- television -- unwelcome neighborhood fear factor

ABC pulls edgy reality show after groups complain - Yahoo! News

ABC has pulled an upcoming reality series in which people with various backgrounds vie to win a house in a white neighborhood, after gay and conservative watchdog groups raised concerns, the Hollywood trade papers said Thursday. The six-episode "Welcome to the Neighborhood" had been scheduled to debut on July 10. Seven families, including a gay couple with an adopted son, people of Asian, black and Hispanic descent and pagans, had to convince conservative residents that they were worthy of moving into the house near Austin, Texas.

"Our intention with 'Welcome to the Neighborhood' was to show the transformative process that takes place when people are forced to confront preconceived notions of what makes a good neighbor, and we believe the series delivers exactly that," Walt Disney Co. -owned ABC said in a statement carried by Daily Variety and the Hollywood Reporter. "However, the fact that true change only happens over time made the episodic nature of this series challenging, and given the sensitivity of the subject matter in early episodes, we have decided not to air the series at this time."

Daily Variety said ABC could eventually air a condensed version so that the feel-good ending comes sooner.

Groups ranging from the
Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) and the National Fair Housing Alliance to the conservative Family Research Council had raised concerns about the show, the papers said.

GLAAD was concerned that the gay couple might get grilled by the neighbors, while the Family Research Council was worried that the conservative neighbors might be ridiculed for their Christian beliefs.

The National Fair Housing Alliance argued the show contravened various housing laws prohibiting discrimination, though Daily Variety said it passed muster with ABC's lawyers. A network official was unavailable for comment.[...]

Mediaweek's Programming Insider puts the entire thing more tersely:

-ABC Nixes Welcome to the Neighborhood:
In an unexpected decision, ABC has decided not to air six-episode reality/competition series Welcome to the Neighborhood, which was scheduled to debut on Sunday, July 10 at 9 p.m. ET. The move was made after complaints were issued from advocacy groups like the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and the Family Research Council over the content of the series. ABC was concerned that the three families selected to choose their new neighbor might have appeared to be intolerant of outsiders.

Well, DUH. Wasn't that the entire point? They would appear to be intolerant, they would meet all these people, get to know them, sing kumbayyah, and then tearfully tell all but one couple, "We're sorry, but you're not on the list. We wish you were, but there's only one house." But everyone would have gotten to know other people better and maybe learned not to judge purely based on appearances or facts that don't take everything into account. Warm fuzziness ensues. The end.

That aside, the coalition of groups opposed to the show was truly remarkable. Far left, far right, and the government. What a remarkable unity of purpose. (I will allow that the government's objection is entirely reasonable on its face and can be taken at face value. I do wonder about both the GLAAD and FRC objections, though. I freely admit that I have no reason for this, aside from the fact that the groups are what they are. I just wonder, however, if they weren't concerned that showing the people in this light might ... humanize them. That the conservative Christians wouldn't appear necessarily bigoted, just uninformed. That the gays wouldn't be demons flaunting their perversion, but just normal people who wanted to raise their kid in a safe and quiet neighborhood. Both sides have a lot of investment in saying, "Look, we're just normal people, those guys are the badduns." But again, that's just me.)

I wonder what ABC will do the next time they broadcast a show that manages to potentially offend such a broad spectrum of people. Note that it was only a potential offense; the show hadn't actually aired yet. Given that it was bothering so many people, the first episode at least would have been a summer ratings bonanza as everyone else tuned in to see what the fuss was all about. That consideration aside, is it good business for them to show that they can be pressured this way? Broadcast networks are peculiarly vulnerable in this way, yes, but to what extent do they want pressure groups dictating their network programming? It's one thing if a show fails either because it lacks the network's support or because the public says, "Eh. Not our taste," and just doesn't watch it. It's another thing entirely for a show to fail -- or, more properly speaking, fail to air -- because the network says, "... We're scared. We're very very afraid of the creepy Christian people and the perverted gay people and the gross government people."

Where, if anywhere, does a network draw its line to say, "We won't be intimidated by people who haven't even seen the show yet. If the public doesn't like it, fine, but you people have no right to expect us to do something just because you say so."

Or maybe we do. Broadcast nets are publicly licensed, after all. Maybe a public license and government oversight means that we do have a right to say, "We hate that. You shouldn't air it," and have the networks take us seriously.

But somehow ... that doesn't sound right, does it?

Posted by iain at 11:44 AM in category television