[06/30/05 - 12:00 AM]
ABC Pulls 'Neighborhood' Over Protest Threat
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

LOS ANGELES (thefutoncritic.com) -- ABC has opted to shelve its six-week summer series "Welcome to the Neighborhood" less than two weeks from its scheduled July 10 premiere.

The decision comes as the result of pressure from such advocacy groups as the Family Research Council, the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) over the show's perceived inflammatory content. "Neighborhood" is a reality competition series in which seven diverse families compete to win a 3,300-square-foot, four-bedroom home in a predominately white cul-de-sac in Austin, Texas with the judges being their members of the community themselves.

At issue was the initial prejudices of said community which the show hoped to alleviate over the course of the competition. Among the examples: one man makes a crack about the number of children piling out of the Hispanic family's car and displays of affection between the gay men provoke disgust. ABC's press materials however made the show's intentions clear: "But with every encounter with these families, the opinionated neighbors' pre-conceived assumptions and prejudices are also chipped away, and they learn that, while on the outside we may appear different, deep inside we share many common bonds. The judges find themselves learning to see people, not stereotypes."

While most groups agreed the show carries a valuable message, GLAAD spokesman Damon Romine was quick to note to The Associated Press: "Regardless of how things turn out at the end of the last show, it's dangerous to let intolerance and bigotry go unchallenged for weeks at a time." The Family Research Council similarly was worried that the evangelicals in the show would be made to appear judgmental and foolish.

In addition, NFHA claims the show violated federal, state and local fair housing laws. NFHA president Shanna Smith told Daily Variety: "I think ABC's intent was to try and depict bigotry and tolerance and that people can transform -- but they did that at the expense of people of color, humiliating them to show that white people can change... Their lawyers pressed that the show did not violate the law ... but they should have known that there were serious problems."

So far ABC has only released a short statement about the decision: "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. 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."

As for what ABC will air in place of "Neighborhood," preliminary schedules indicate repeats of "Desperate Housewives" (originally set to air at 10:00/9:00c) will air in the 9:00/8:00c hour followed by "Grey's Anatomy" at 10:00/9:00c.

As for the future of "Neighborhood," industry insiders suggest ABC may air a condensed version of the show in which the positive ending airs sooner however most agree its more than likely the series will never see the light of day. The network itself has dropped all references to the series from its public and media web sites.

Rob Lee, Chuck Bangert, Lou Gorfain, Jay Blumenfield and Tony Marsh are the executive producers of "Neighborhood," a co-production of MGM, New Screen Concepts and the Jay and Tony Show Productions.

  [june 2005]  


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