One breakfast taco and some good PR, please
American Idol's Randy Jackson provided the perfect response. He was chatting it up with Regis and Kelly one morning about the next round of Idol auditions when he was asked what cities the show was traveling to. Jackson went blank, then gleefully blurted, "I know we're going to Austin!"
Would Jackson muster the same glee if he had to say, "I know we're going to Lincoln, Nebraska!" I think not, I intoned to extraordinarily patient parents.
My father said, "Oh brother." My mom said, "Randy who?"
Later, when I heard that Austin wasn't looking so good on the newest installment of MTV's The Real World, I decided to keep that bit of information to myself. And now, I read that Austin isn't looking so good again. After pressure from several advocacy groups, ABC was forced to cancel its heavily promoted new reality show, Welcome to the Neighborhood, shot in Austin's Circle C subdivision.
Welcome to the Neighborhood was to be the next summer hit for ABC, filling in for the high-profile Desperate Housewives. In Welcome ..., a white family decides which of seven families would win a new home in their Circle C neighborhood. The families included Asian, Latino, and African-American families, along with a family that practiced Wicca, and a white gay male couple with an adopted black child. The six-episode reality show was set to premiere July 10.
"The show directly violated the federal Fair Housing Act by rejecting families because of their race, color, national origin or the presence of children," said Shanna Smith, president and chief executive of the National Fair Housing Alliance, as reported by Felicia R. Lee in the June 30 New York Times. The Washington-based alliance led a campaign asking housing agencies and civil rights groups to urge ABC to ditch the show, Lee writes.
"The couples/families that took part in [Welcome to the Neighborhood] surely took part for the same reason that thousands of game show contestants have debased themselves in front of the nation for decades ... to win PRIZES!" reality TV fan Kerry Dabbs wrote in her letter to ABC's Audience Relations Department and kindly copied to me. "That [ABC] bowed to this bullying from these so-called 'civil rights' groups is appalling!"
Dabbs apparently sent me a copy of her letter in hopes that I would leap to join her cause. It really does help to read a person's work before you seek their allegiance. In today's media climate, trying to save a reality show, even a so-called innocuous one, is low on my list of things to do. (See the breakfast taco tantrum above.) But since Dabbs was kind enough to send me her thoughts, let me respond.
Silly me. I think protecting civil rights is important. I don't consider GLAAD (the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) or even the conservative Family Research Council, two groups that answered the National Fair Housing Alliance's call, "so-called" civil rights groups that should keep quiet about troublesome images on TV. Civil rights violations are okay if it's in the name of entertainment or big "PRIZES"? Can we say priorities?
But what really caused Welcome ... problems were its early episodes. The selecting family apparently makes some highly disparaging (and ultimately embarrassing statements) about the various families. Which just goes to show that prejudice and small-mindedness is alive and well in Austin, Texas as it is anywhere else in the nation. But don't tell my parents that. Even with the stifling heat, the traffic, the high cost of living, and the litany of things I complained about before leaving, Austin is home.
For Dabbs and anyone else dying to watch Welcome to the Neighborhood, fear not. ABC may repackage the show as a special for broadcast in the future.
As always, stay tuned and pass the salsa, por favor.
Austin Video Awards Announced
The Austin Video Awards were handed out June 25, honoring outstanding ACTV producers for their work. Categories, videos, and the first-place producers include:
First Effort: The Freeman Perspective Harp Episode, Freeman.
Entertainment: Patriot Acts, Steve Gomez.
Community Volunteer: First Thursday, Steve Muccini.
Youth (18 & Under): Misunderstood A Bad Combination, Mitch Collier.
Children's Programming: Angela's Notebook Show No. 10, Angela Mederis.
Community Affairs: A Bird's Eye View, Ronald Ward.
Inspirational: Bannockburn Easter Service, Crucifixion Scene, David Matyis.
Live: The Beautiful Losers/OcCulture, David Castillo.
Music: Straightening Up the House, Spencer Nutting.
Arts & Culture: Travelin' Light Waco, Ron Wilson.
Variety: It's Easier Than You Think/The Asian Dinner Show, Emanuel Limuel Jr.