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KSL, gay leaders discuss programming decision

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 29 2012 11:47 p.m. MDT

"The New Normal" cast members, from left, and Ellen Barkin, Justin Bartha, Andrew Rannells, Georgia King and NeNe Leakes arrive for the NBC network upfront presentation at Radio City Music Hall, Monday, May 14, 2012 in New York. (AP Photo/Evan Agostini)

Evan Agostini, ASSOCIATED PRESS

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SALT LAKE CITY — Prominent leaders of Utah's LGBT community met Wednesday with KSL-TV executives, who restated their position the station won't air the upcoming new NBC sitcom "The New Normal" not because the show includes gay characters, but because it includes "sexually explicit content, demeaning dialogue and inciting stereotypes."

After the meeting, and having seen the pilot episode of "The New Normal" — which NBC released online Wednesday — the leaders of the Utah Pride Center and Equality Utah said in a joint statement that they accepted KSL's position.

"We appreciated the opportunity to express our concerns, and to hear firsthand the reasons behind this decision," said Valerie Larabee, executive director of Utah Pride, and Brandie Balken, executive director of Equality Utah. "We accept their explanation that the decision to pull 'The New Normal' was not made lightly and it was not made because of any single issue including gay characters or LGBT families.

"For us the core issue is not 'The New Normal,' but rather dialogue, which is important for everyone in our community. We commend Bonneville International, the parent company of KSL for meeting with us, and for hosting a dialogue focused on respect."

Jeff Simpson, CEO of KSL parent company Bonneville International, and KSL executives released a separate statement, which echoed the LGBT advocates in praising the meeting's atmosphere of mutual respect: "It was helpful to talk together, to better understand issues and to be able to discuss the reasons behind our decision to not air 'The New Normal.' This was not a decision we made lightly and it was not made because of any single issue including gay characters or LGBT families.

"As a communications company we make decisions every day regarding our programming and we made a decision to not broadcast this program because we feel it had a number of issues including sexually explicit content, demeaning dialogue and inciting stereotypes."

LGBT reaction

An LGBT community march was initially scheduled for Wednesday evening, but was called off after the meeting with KSL executives.

Prior to Wednesday's meeting with Bonneville and KSL, Larabee and Balken dialogued with the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), the national organization that last week criticized KSL for choosing to not air "The New Normal."

"GLAAD's role," Larabee told the Deseret News, "is to make sure that our community isn't disparaged or spoken about inaccurately by any station, and that when a decision (like this) is made it's not (intended) to exclude our community from being seen on TV or radio. … The point that I most want to be heard about — and that's why we spoke carefully about accepting KSL's decision and them furthering their clarity — is that LGBT families in Utah shouldn't feel like they are the reason that KSL isn't airing the program."

Defining 'New Normal'

Simpson told media outlets last week, "KSL did not cancel this show because it features gay characters. We have viewed the pilot and this program contains sexually explicit content, demeaning dialogue and inciting stereotypes. KSL considers the entirety of a show before making such a sensitive decision and reviews many criteria as part of that process."

The show's co-creator, Ali Adler, agreed "The New Normal" had a broader scope when she told the Huffington Post earlier this month, "This is not a show about gay people."

Adler said the grandmother character "Nanna," played by Ellen Barkin, is racist. Nanna also makes bigoted statements in the pilot. For example, she says, “I feel like I just ate a black-and-gay stew right before I went to sleep. This is a nightmare!” and “I happen to love the gays — I could never get my hair to look this good without them.”

KSL has declined NBC shows before over concerns about content. KSL previously elected not to air include "Playboy Club," which the NBC cancelled in 2011 after three episodes; "Coupling," the American adaptation of a same-name British program that lasted only four episodes in 2003 before drawing the axe from the network; and "God, the Devil and Bob" in 2000, which NBC also killed shortly after its debut.

J.G. Askar is a graduate of BYU's J. Reuben Clark Law School and member of the Utah State Bar. Contact him at jaskar@desnews.com or 801-236-6051.

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