Anyone who's never had PBS Kids shows blaring from their TVs likely best knows Arthur from the myriad Internet memes inspired by the long-running series. However, Arthur unexpectedly made headlines recently when announcing its Season 22 premiere would center on a same sex wedding that Arthur and his friends attend. The episode aired on PBS in most areas of the country on Monday, May 20, but viewers in Alabama were not allowed to see it.
After taking a look at the Arthur episode for preview purposes, execs for Alabama Public Television (APT) chose not to air it on the night of its premiere, and it doesn't seem like anyone will be reversing that decision in order to air the episode in the future. Here's how the decision was explained by Mike McKenzie, the director of programming for APT:
Parents have trusted Alabama Public Television for more than 50 years to provide children’s programs that entertain, educate and inspire. More importantly — although we strongly encourage parents to watch television with their children and talk about what they have learned afterwards — parents trust that their children can watch APT without their supervision. We also know that children who are younger than the ‘target’ audience for Arthur also watch the program. The vast majority of parents will not have heard about the content, whether they agree with it or not. Because of this, we felt it would be a violation of trust to broadcast the episode.
In Mike McKenzie's view, the APT would have been taking away parents' choices over the TV shows their children watch, at least if it had aired Arthur's episode "Mr. Ratburn and the Special Someone" as planned. Audiences got to watch a rerun in place of the new episode.
Possibly knowing that certain parents would take issue with the episode, PBS went public with the news that Arthur would feature a same-sex marriage in its Season 22 premiere. The first segment's storyline centered on teacher Mr. Ratburn coming out and marrying his chocolatier boyfriend Patrick, with Arthur and other kids attending the ceremony.
For what it's worth, the episode's second storyline featured the class getting into a debate about video games, sparked by an argument between Arthur and Buster. That angle, however, didn't appear to trouble Alabama Public Television too much.
Arthur creator Marc Brown wasn't pleased at all by this news, and told People that he was "very disappointed" by APT's decision. In his words:
I’m really proud of that episode. And I will defend it to anybody who wants to talk about it. Why shouldn’t their teacher marry another man? We all know people who are gay, who are trans, and it’s something that is socially acceptable. Why is there this discomfort that it takes a leap into our national media? I don’t want children or people who are different to feel excluded. That’s not the kind of world we want to live in. And we want children to be educated so they can see there’s not just one type of family. Everyone should feel represented. I think we did that with Arthur.
This isn't even the first time that Arthur has provoked swift action within the Alabama Public Television walls. In 2005, the episode "Postcards from Buster" was pulled by the APT because Buster met a female character who had two mothers. The angle was deemed too risky then, before Mike McKenzie took over, so it'd likely stand less of a chance now.
Alabama Public Television's stance on Arthur comes soon after the state landed in the midst of another controversial situation. Last week, female governor Kay Ivey approved the most limiting abortion law in the country, which labels any abortion a felony unless the mother's health is in danger. That bill is expected to take effect in six months, though it's highly likely that others will attempt to fight it.
Arthur sometimes deals with material that may be deemed unsuitable to the youngest of viewers, but the show probably won't be angling for an abortion storyline in Season 23 or beyond. As such, the animated series likely won't get kicked off of Alabama Public Television again anytime soon. (Unless maybe Arthur wears an LSU sweatshirt or something.)
Arthur airs weekday mornings on PBS at 6:30 a.m. EST. Stay tuned to CinemaBlend to see if anything else comes of this TV debate.