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ABC Drops Show After Complaints by Civil Rights Groups

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  • anjalisaga
    This is sick stuff. June 30, 2005 ABC Drops Show After Complaints by Civil Rights Groups By FELICIA R. LEE Under pressure from civil rights groups, ABC
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 3, 2005
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      This is sick stuff.

      June 30, 2005
      ABC Drops Show After Complaints by Civil Rights Groups

      Under pressure from civil rights groups, ABC Television yesterday
      canceled plans to broadcast a reality show that let the white suburban
      families living on a Texas cul-de-sac decide which of seven families -
      including one black, one Asian, one Hispanic and one gay couple -
      would move into their community.

      The show, "Welcome to the Neighborhood," was to be a summer
      replacement for the top-rated "Desperate Housewives," which is set on
      a fictional cul-de-sac, Wisteria Lane, where no one can keep her nose
      out of anyone else's business.

      The one-hour reality show, developed by MGM and the producers behind
      such shows as "Extreme Makeover" and "The Road to Stardom With Missy
      Elliot," was to have begun a six-episode run on July 10 at 9 p.m.

      In the shows - all of them have been completed - seven diverse
      families seek votes from three white families in a development called
      Circle C Ranch, outside Austin. The white families, through a series
      of interviews, competitions and social interactions, award a
      3,300-square-foot, four-bedroom, 2½-bathroom home to the winner - a
      neighbor, the families say, who will fit in with the community's
      mostly Christian and Republican values.

      Critics of "Welcome to the Neighborhood," which ABC had promoted
      heavily, said it violated the letter and certainly the spirit of fair
      housing laws by allowing factors like religion to be a consideration
      in awarding the house.

      A statement released by ABC yesterday said that the intention 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."

      "However," the statement continued, "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."

      An earlier ABC press release promoting the show said in part: "Will
      the resident neighbors be able to see past their own ideals and accept
      all of the families as people instead of stereotypes? Eventually some
      eyes and hearts open up, opinions change and a community is transformed."

      In the first two episodes, some members of the voting families are
      seen making disparaging remarks about the gay family (two white men
      with a black child), questioning whether a Korean family was
      foreign-born and rejecting a white family who practiced Wicca, a pagan
      religion. One family was to be rejected each week until the last
      remaining family won the house.

      "The show directly violated the federal Fair Housing Act by rejecting
      families because of their race, color, national origin or the presence
      of children," said Shanna Smith, president and chief executive of the
      National Fair Housing Alliance, consisting of more than 100 private
      nonprofit housing agencies across the country.

      The Washington-based alliance led a campaign asking housing agencies
      and civil rights groups to urge ABC not to broadcast the show. Ms.
      Smith said she had also been in talks with network executives.

      "I'm elated," Ms. Smith said of the cancellation. "There'll be no
      copycat shows by the other networks. Also, ABC understands there are
      civil rights issues and understands the implications."

      Some alliance members contended that even though the families
      willingly entered the competition and were seeking to win a house
      rather than purchase it, the law stipulates that characteristics like
      race or religion cannot be considered, even in giving away property.
      The members also said they worried that the program sent a message
      that bigotry was tolerable.

      As for the show, "It's hilarious and had me in stitches," said John C.
      Brittain, chief counsel for the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights
      Under Law, a nonprofit civil rights organization. "If it weren't so
      discriminatory, it would be great."

      As an example, Mr. Brittain cited as discriminatory a remark by one
      person on the show who said the Wiccan family would not be selected
      because of their religion. "I'm a member of the A.C.L.U., too, so I'm
      loath to come down on entertainment shows," Mr. Brittain said. "I
      wouldn't mind it too much if it were "M*A*S*H" or Archie Bunker. But
      this is real."
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