ABC pulls its upcoming 'Welcome to the Neighborhood' series, cites subject matter "sensitivity"
By Reality TV World staff, 06/30/2005
Reacting to watchdog group complaints, ABC has announced that it has pulled its previously announced Welcome to the Neighborhood reality series from its broadcast schedule.
First announced back in April and scheduled to have premiered on Sunday, July 10, Welcome to the Neighborhood raised complaints from anti-discrimination and conservative groups who objected to the show's purpose -- to discover whether people from different religious, social, and ethic groups could be accepted by the residents of a white, conservative, upper-middle class Austin, Texas neighborhood.
Scheduled to air weekly in six hour-long episodes, Welcome to the Neighborhood was to feature seven diverse families competing to win a beautiful 3300-square-foot, four bedroom, 2.5 bath dream home -- with the cul-de-sac's neighbors deciding who wins the competition and moves into the neighborhood. But rather than being presented with potential families similar to themselves, the seven participating families that the neighbors had to select from included a gay couple with an adopted son, a white Wiccan-practicing family, and families of Asian, African-American, and Hispanic descent.
While ABC's press materials touted the show's ability to force the three neighborhood families to "get past their own pre-conceived notions and prejudices" and an ending that resulted in "some eyes and hearts opening up, opinions changing and a community transforming," based on the promotional clips that ABC had been airing in recent weeks, the neighbors didn't initially interact well with the seven participating families.
"I will not tolerate a homosexual couple coming into this neighborhood," Jim Stewart, the father of one of the three judging families and self-described neighborhood "governor," was shown remarking about The Wrights, a white homosexual couple with an adopted African-American boy. "I want a family similar to what we are," John Bellamy, the father of another of the judging families, complained in another of ABC's commercials.
According to Daily Variety, groups ranging from the National Fair Housing Alliance to the conservative Family Research Council had either raised concerns about the series or asked the network to cancel its broadcast. Additionally, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation had acknowledged its approval of the show's final message, but expressed concerns about Welcome to the Neighborhood's approach.
Looking to head off a potential controversy before it grew any larger, ABC released a statement on Wednesday that announced it was pulling Welcome to the Neighborhood from its summer schedule.
"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," read the network statement published by both 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."
While the network wouldn't make any comment beyond the statement, according to Variety, ABC became concerned that viewers who only watched the premiere episode might "get the idea that the series was encouraging prejudice." In an attempt to address that concern, the paper reported that ABC is exploring the idea of airing a condensed version of the show in which the "feel good" ending airs sooner after the "edgier" early episodes, however it is also very possible that the series will be permanently shelved.
The National Fair Housing Alliance had complained that the show violated anti-discrimination housing laws, however, according to Variety, ABC's lawyers had fully researched the issue and deemed the series to be legal. While GLAAD supported the show's effort to promote tolerance, it told the trade paper that the organization felt that the elimination format that exposed the losing families to the neighbors' initial attitudes was "unnecessarily cruel and insensitive." Meanwhile, the Family Research Council reportedly worried that "conservatives could come off looking biased."