Matt Uhl, general manager of UPN affiliate WLYH Lancaster, Pa., and Joe Pitts, Republican Congressman for Lancaster, have one thing in common: Both were unhappy Wednesday that UPN had not responded to their requests last week for a screener of controversial reality show Amish in the City, which debuts July 28.
"I have put in messages to two other people up the ladder at UPN," says Uhl, who first contacted the network last Friday. "I guess they are just hoping if they ignore me, I will go away. I won't," he said.
Uhl says he has not decided whether to air the show or not, but believes he and others in his community should be able to judge its impact before he makes that decision. "We want to make sure the show is not exploitation. If I were in almost any other market, it wouldn't matter, but I have employees here with Amish neighbors, who shop in Amish markets. I would rather be a little cautious."
He says the decision was not based on any political pressure.
"Rep. Pitts has his agenda, which is purely political, and I have mine, which is what is in the best interests of the community as a whole." According to source, local politicians have been pressuring the station not to air the show, but Uhl says he has no desire to be a censor. In fact, the station has been conducting a viewer poll on the issue. At press time, 52% were in favor or airing the show and Uhl said he would take that input into account before making any decision.
The ability to screen shows and to preempt programs according to community standards was a key issue in congressional hearings earlier this year on indecency, with Washington pushing the networks to give affiliates more control over their programming.
For his part, Pitts' office said they had not gotten a response either and were preparing to contact Viacom lobbyists to get an answer. UPN declined to comment either on the issue or its alleged lack of response, saying it was an internal station matter.
Pitts took his criticism of the show to the House Floor Tuesday. He also attempted to warn advertisers off the show. "Other affiliates should follow [WLYH's] suit," he told his House colleagues, "and advertisers should think twice before attaching their names to a show that offends and potentially degrades a religious community.
"Make no mistake, this program is offensive and exploitative," he said, "The very act of making this show violates a fundamental Amish religious tenet. And asking Amish youth to participate requires them to break it."
UPN has said the series is respectful of the Amish tradition.
The show put Amish teenagers exploring the world outside their community together with urban kids and filmed the results. In a religious ritual called "rumspringa," Amish youth are allowed to leave the community, then make their own decision on whether to return.
Uhl says he could decide to run it, to replace it, or to delay it until midnight, but he needs to see it first. And if they don't supply the screener? "Ask me on July 27, but I do have a plan B."