ABC Faces Reality, Pulls Welcome Mat on 'Neighborhood'

The three families in
The three families in "Welcome" who judged whether a diverse couple with kids could move in next door are all white, Christian and Republican: the Stewarts, the Bellamys and the Danielses. (By Bob D'amico -- Abc)
By Lisa de Moraes
Thursday, June 30, 2005

ABC has pulled "Welcome to the Neighborhood" after it was suggested to the network that a reality series in which three couples consider race and religion to help decide which contestant family gets to become their neighbor violates the federal Fair Housing Act.

In this social experiment, which was scheduled to debut July 10, seven families competed to win a 3,300-square-foot, four-bedroom, 2 1/2 -bath house on a cul-de-sac near Austin.

They were a religious, African American family; a Wiccan family; a Latino family; an Asian family; a picture-perfect white family (except mom is a stripper); a young white family headed by staunch Republicans, only mom and dad are covered in tattoos; and a white gay couple with an adopted African American infant.

The couples who determine their fates, housing-wise, are white, Christian, Republican and close-minded.

In the course of the six episodes, ABC said, the locals learn that "while on the outside we may appear different, deep inside we share many common bonds" and "to see people, not stereotypes."

In the first two episodes, which were sent out to the media, various residents make statements about the contestants' ethnicity and religion that violate the Fair Housing Act, Shanna Smith, National Fair Housing Alliance president and CEO, told The TV Column.

"These residents are making their judgments because of race, national origin and religion," said Smith, who has seen those two episodes.

Because the network does convey a home as a result of the show, Smith's organization believes the "Welcome to the Neighborhood" program is covered under fair housing laws, which make it illegal to deny housing or otherwise make it unavailable because of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability or family status.

Smith's group spearheaded a campaign against the program and was hoping to block the debut when word came yesterday that ABC had scrubbed it.

The network would not comment other than to issue a statement saying, "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 the 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."

The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation also had cautioned ABC after seeing the first two episodes.

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