Amid demonstrations outside the Paramount lot and charges of racial insensitivity, UPN has pulled the planned premiere seg of its new comedy “The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer,” which will bow Monday with a different episode.
The sitcom, set in the White House during the Lincoln years, has raised the ire of a number of community groups including the L.A.-based Brotherhood Crusade advocacy and charitable org.
In spite of Tuesday’s acquiescence by UPN, the anti-“Desmond Pfeiffer” coalition vowed to mount another protest outside Paramount today. A small group led by the Brotherhood Crusade’s media-savvy prexy, Danny Bakewell, held a vocal demonstration Sept. 24 outside the famed Par gates.
The protesters say the weblet is displaying a callous disregard for the suffering of blacks during the slavery era by using the Lincoln White House and the Civil War as a backdrop for a sitcom.
UPN execs strongly disagree, saying “Desmond Pfeiffer” is designed to be a broad political satire playing off parallels, and the obvious differences, between those troubled times and the present.
In the series, also produced by Par, the Pfeiffer character is the sole black person to serve in the Lincoln White House, and he’s portrayed as the smartest one of a bumbling group of aides and Cabinet members.
UPN confirmed Tuesday that it would substitute a seg dubbed “Abe Online” for the pilot episode, which had been the only seg that has been available to TV critics as well as the protesters. “Abe Online” revolves around Lincoln engaging in “an amorous telegraph relationship with a mystery woman,” while Pfeiffer discovers a secret treasure hidden inside the White House by Thomas Jefferson.
In a statement, UPN said: “While we do not believe the series’ premise or any of the program episodes are racially insensitive, we respect our African-American viewers and will review the pilot episode again before putting it on the air.”
Reps for the Brotherhood Crusade, which has spearheaded the protest campaign involving the Hollywood branch of the NAACP and other community groups, countered that the issue was not the material in the pilot seg but the entire concept of the show. As such, the protests will continue until the show is off the air, they said.
“The program trivializes our suffering and pain and denigrates the bones of our ancestors,” said Bakewell, prexy and CEO of the Brotherhood Crusade.
“This issue transcends personal taste. This isn’t an issue of, if you don’t like it don’t watch it,” he said. “Slavery in this country was probably the worst holocaust of humankind, and it is not a subject to be trivialized, marginalized, exploited or distorted. There can be no compromise on this because it is such an all-encompassing subject.”
Bakewell said he is enlisting the support of the national NAACP org to mount an advertiser boycott of the show. Reps for the Baltimore-based NAACP could not be reached for comment late Tuesday.
Bakewell also claimed that UPN and Par execs reneged on a promise made at last week’s demonstration to meet face to face with leaders of the protest. Network and studio sources maintain that no such promise was made.