ABC’s has decided to shut down “Welcome to the Neighborhood,” despite the fact the first episode was not schedule to premiere for another two weeks.
With a threatened lawsuit and accusations of bigotry being made, ABC traded a major headache for the temporary embarrassment of cancelling a series that was already finished.
The six-episode summer series, which was to debut on July 10, was heavily promoted and given the best time slot at 9 p.m. Sunday night. ABC saw it as the potential hit following the unexpected success of “Dancing With the Stars.”
“Welcome to the Neighborhood” followed three families in a “nice” neighborhood near Austin, Texas, as they were given the chance to choose who moves in when a neighbor moves out of a 3,300-square-foot home. Each family is white, conservative and initially interested in neighbors like them.
The twist is that the had the following choices: a black family; a Hispanic family; an Asian family; two gay white men who’ve adopted a black boy; a couple covered in tattoos and piercings; a couple who met at the woman’s initiation as a witch; and a white family where the mom is a stripper.
The show followed the usual reality pattern of voting out a family week-by-week until a winner was declared.
A number of agencies and groups responded to the show with a large measure of outrage.
“Why should people of color and others … be humiliated and degraded to teach white people not to be bigots?” said Shanna Smith, president of the National Fair Housing Alliance. “That’s not good for race relations in America.”
During the first few episodes, one man made a crack about the number of children piling out of the Hispanic family’s car and an embrace between the gay men was met with disgust.
Anger about the series even brought together the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation with the Family Research Council.
Smith said it was illegal for homeowners to pick who their neighbors will be. Her group was preparing a lawsuit, saying the series frustrated all their efforts to see that people are not discriminated against in seeking housing.
By all accounts, ABC did not anticipate the level of opposition to its latest series.
“I didn’t think that people would be this nervous,” Andrea Wong, head of alternative programming at ABC, said before Wednesday’s decision to ditch the show. “Because I really think it’s such a positive show and such a good thing to put on TV and cause viewers to look at themselves, I’m surprised by the negative reaction to it.”
Wong was not giving interviews after the cancellation. Series producers Jay Blumenfield and Tony Marsh also declined to speak publicly.
Smith, who had seen tapes of the first two episodes, was disturbed by a “lack of balance.” Competing contestants couldn’t respond to offending remarks because they weren’t made in their presence.
ABC said last week that “given the sensitivity of the subject matter in early episodes we have decided not to air the series at this time.”
“You only sort of get half the story in watching the first two episodes,” Blumenfield said before the cancellation. “You see the harshness, the entrenched points of view. These things kind of melt away as the humanity comes out. It was astonishing to watch and I think everyone felt very positive at the end.”
Since producers were quiet after the cancellation, Marsh wasn’t available to address the irony of his comments made a week earlier.
“One of the horrible things that is happening right now in this country is that people are so afraid of a healthy debate,” he said. “Somehow if you put out a strong point of view you’re either painting someone improperly or you’re offending the people who might oppose that view. We don’t believe that preconceptions and prejudices are something to hide. They’re something explore and hopefully get over.”