ABC still considering controversial 'Welcome to the Neighborhood'
By Reality TV World staff, 08/03/2005
ABC has confirmed that it is still considering airing Welcome to the Neighborhood, the controversial reality show that it had originally intended to premiere in early July but later pulled due to complaints from anti-discrimination, fair housing, and conservative groups who objected to the show's concept.
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 won the competition and moved 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.
According to the show's producers, Welcome to the Neighborhood's goal was 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.
While the show's goals might have been admirable, based on the initial promotional clips that ABC had made available, the neighbors didn't initially interact well with the seven participating families, resulting in some advocacy groups expressing concern that the neighbors' slow enlightenment might give viewers of the show's early episodes the idea that the show was "encouraging prejudice." Additionally, fair housing groups had also contended that the show's format violated anti-discrimination housing laws, a contention that ABC's lawyers disputed.
After hearing about the various concerns, ABC announced in late June that it had decided to pull the show from its summer schedule and was exploring the possibility of airing a condensed version of the show in which the "feel good" ending airs sooner after the "edgier" early episodes.
While ABC has apparently still been continuing to decide what to do with the series, the recently launched Fox Reality Channel (no doubt hoping to cash in on the free publicity generated by the controversial series) decided to approach the network about the possibility of airing the series on its own cable network should ABC opt against airing the series -- an idea that ABC president Steve McPherson quickly shot down during one of last week's Television Critics Tour sessions with reporters.
"If I don't think something should be aired, why would I sell it to somebody else?" Daily Variety reported McPherson as stating to reporters. "For financial gain or just to get it out there? That doesn't make any (sense). If you don't think something is responsible to be broadcast, why would you encourage it to be broadcast elsewhere?"
Meanwhile, publicity craving Fox Reality executives were more than willing to continue to talk about what network head David Lyle described to the New York Daily News as its "kind offer." "I understand ABC's dilemma -- that the show might offend people initially before it plays out," Lyle also told Daily Variety. "But our audience of passionate reality TV watchers expects things to be more confrontational, so I think it would work for us."
Of course, both McPherson's comments and Fox Reality's expression of interest came before another recent show development -- this week's publication of a Chicago Tribune story that revealed the identity of the show's winning family (who due to the show's contract, have not yet moved into their new home.) On Tuesday, the Tribune published an article written by Howard Witt, a senior correspondent who has lived in the Circle C Ranch neighborhood in which the house is located since December 2003.
In addition to expressing his regret that ABC pulled the show and stating that the show "provided a rare window into what our neighborhood, and to a large degree, the city of Austin, is really like," Witt also disclosed several spoilers about the series. Among them were: (highlight the below white area to see.)
• The Wrights, a Caucasian homosexual couple who have an adopted African American boy, and the Crenshaws, a religious, African American family, were the competition's final two families
• The Wrights won the competition
• "The man who insisted he would not tolerate gays [had] an epiphany by the end, averring that "You forget about the gay issue and realize they are just people."
• "After the gay couple won the house, the owners of the home behind it promptly put their place up for sale... announcing that they didn't want to live near homosexuals"
According to Witt, he viewed all six episodes of the series at a special June screening conducted for neighborhood residents.