ABC cans show for breaking housing laws -- Is the cancellation of ''Welcome to the Neighborhood'' a case of corporate cowardice

By Lynette Rice
Updated July 08, 2005 at 04:00 AM EDT

Welcome to the Neighborhood

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Welcome to the neighborhood — now get out. Less than two weeks before its July 10 debut, after advocacy group the National Fair Housing Alliance claimed it violated fair-housing laws, ABC has shelved its summer reality series Welcome to the Neighborhood. The six-episode show follows seven families — including a gay couple and a pagan clan — as they vie for a furnished home in a white, conservative Texas neighborhood.

Following last year’s Janet Jackson Nipplegate debacle at the Super Bowl, ABC’s move — like CBS’ 2003 dumping of the TV biopic The Reagans after Republican protests — is striking some as an overreaction to negative press and a potential lawsuit. (The NFHA has mentioned the possibility of filing a suit under the Fair Housing Act because the show allows factors like sexual orientation and skin color to be considered in awarding a house.) ”Where’s the damage in one more bad TV show?” says UCLA film professor/pop-culture analyst Richard Walter. ”It’s clever and creative to contemplate a way to engage public consciousness regarding race, ethnicity, and culture.”

Perhaps, but NFHA president Shanna Smith took issue with how Neighborhood‘s families chose who moves next door: Would-be neighbors perform a series of tasks to help decide who stays and who goes. But there was clearly more to the decision-making: In one objectionable bit, a white resident makes an off-color remark about the number of kids in the Mexican-American Gonzalez family. If the show aired, argues Smith, ”There would be millions of Americans watching who would believe it’s okay to turn a family away because of their race or their religion.”

ABC won’t comment, but the show may never air — to the dismay of some participants. ”We knew that it would be difficult to watch,” John and Steve Wright, Neighborhood‘s gay couple, said in a statement. ”But if one person’s attitudes were changed or one gay kid in Nebraska realized that he wasn’t alone, this show would have done its job.”

Episode Recaps

Welcome to the Neighborhood

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