TV hasn’t worn out ‘Welcome’

Reality Channel willing to air controversial skein

ABC still hasn’t decided what to do with benched reality skein “Welcome to the Neighborhood,” but at least one cable net says it’s willing to air the show if the Alphabet isn’t.

Rupert Murdoch’s recently launched Fox Reality Channel says it will gladly put “Neighborhood” on the air should the Alphabet agree to sell it to them. The likelihood of that happening, however, is slim.

For one thing, ABC says it’s still considering airing the skein itself, a month after abruptly pulling it from air (Daily Variety, June 30). What’s more, if the net ultimately decided not to air the show, ABC Entertainment prexy Steve McPherson has said he doesn’t plan to let it go anywhere else.

“If I don’t think something should be aired, why would I sell it to somebody else?” he told reporters last week. “For financial gain or just to get it out there? That doesn’t make any (sense). If you don’t think something is responsible to be broadcast, why would you encourage it to be broadcast elsewhere?”

That said, FRC general manager-chief operating officer David Lyle said he’s had his staffers contact ABC/Disney distribution arm Buena Vista about picking up “Neighborhood.”

“I understand ABC’s dilemma — that the show might offend people initially before it plays out,” Lyle continued. “But our audience of passionate reality TV watchers expects things to be more confrontational, so I think it would work for us.”

Lyle said a Buena Vista rep “told us they’d definitely be interested in talking further,” but only if ABC agreed to let the show go. Exec also said he’s talked to some of the show’s producers and is aware ABC “holds all the aces.”

It’s doubtful FRC would offer to pay ABC the full license fee for the show, though any added coin would offset the cost of production.

“Neighborhood” — from MGM Television, New Screen Concepts and the Jay and Tony Show Prods. — seeks to discover whether people from different social classes and ethnic groups can be accepted by a white, upper-middle class Texas community. Using a competition format, six families — including a pagan duo, a gay family and a Korean clan — try to win a fully furnished house in Austin by winning over the current residents of the cul-de-sac.

While “Neighborhood” exposes the apparent prejudices of the community, it also makes it clear from the start that all involved end up learning “life lessons” by the end of the series, debunking a slew of stereotypes in the process.

Bad first impression?

McPherson has said he was worried viewers would get the wrong idea from watching early segs of the show, which he believes might make auds think the net is somehow condoning discrimination.

The irony: the whole idea behind “Neighborhood” was to encourage people to be more accepting of those who are different. Indeed, by the end of the series, the neighbors invite the gay couple to move to their cul-de-sac.

In an article published Tuesday, a resident of the neighborhood, who happens to be a correspondent for the Chicago Tribune, offered his take on the skein, which he saw at a special screening of the entire series held in Austin last month. His verdict: It’s a shame viewers might not see the show.

“The man who insisted he would not tolerate gays has an epiphany by the end, averring that ‘You forget about the gay issue and realize they are just people,'” writes Trib scribe Howard Witt. “Another judge, speaking of the black family, discovers ‘what nice, pleasant and even well-versed people they are.'”

Still, after the gay couple won the house, according to Witt, “the owners of the home behind it promptly put their place up for sale… announcing that they didn’t want to live near homosexuals.”

Jury’s still out

McPherson and other ABC insiders have insisted no final decision has been made on the skein’s future. In fact, it’s believed the net is still brainstorming about ways to present the show, perhaps in an edited form.

Should ABC ultimately shelve “Neighborhood,” there would be some precedent.

It’s not uncommon for nets to hold on to pilots or dead projects even after they’ve decided to nix an idea. The reason: Nets don’t want someone else succeeding with an idea or show they passed on.

Letting a net like FRC or another smaller cabler wouldn’t pose much of a competitive problem, however, given the relatively tiny reach of such cablers vs. ABC.

And CBS supremo Leslie Moonves let Showtime air a virtually unedited version of the controversial mini “The Reagans,” even though he didn’t believe the mini was right for the Eye.

Fox Reality is available in under 20 million homes and programs a lineup of largely B- and C-tier reality shows including “Joe Millionaire,” “The Swan,” “Last Comic Standing” and “For Love of Money,” as well as never-before-seen unscripted skeins from abroad.

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