23 January 2006

Jacques Steinberg of The New York Times investigates the fate of a reality TV show that was scheduled to appear last summer on ABC, but instead was shelved indefinitely, possibly due to an ideological conflict of interests between the heartwarming set-up of a gay couple battling other minority families for a spot in a gated, WASP neighborhood in Texas, and the big evangelical buck to be made for ABC’s parent company, Walt Disney, which was just then about to start promoting The Chronicles of Narnia. And to top off the dubious timing, in the weeks before the show’s cancellation, four heavy-weight evangelical associations, including Focus on the Family and the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), ended their long-standing boycott of Disney over the company’s gay-friendly policies. Welcome to the Neighborhood, which pitted the gay couple and their son against families that were black, Latino, Asian, Wicca or — to be really multi-cultural — tattooed, was canceled ten days before it was scheduled to be aired, officially because ABC feared that viewers might not make it through the ugliness of the first five episodes, featuring some the prejudices and homophobia of the neighborhood’s residents, to witness their poignant redemption, with the neighborhood’s most virulent homophobe coming to terms with his own son’s homosexuality, in the kind of public change of heart that reality TV dreams are made of. But the real moral of the story is more about the business side of the heartwarming business: as Richard Land of the SBC told the Times, airing a program that “showed Christians literally embracing their gay neighbors” would have been a “‘pretty stupid marketing move.'”