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Network Is Criticized for Show on Gay Parents

Television* Nickelodeon program draws the ire of the Traditional Values Coalition. O'Donnell, Falwell to be guests.

June 07, 2002|BRIAN LOWRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Children's cable network Nickelodeon has drawn fire from a conservative group over an upcoming "Nick News" special that will explore the issue of gay parenting, with comic Rosie O'Donnell and the Rev. Jerry Falwell among the participants.

"Nick News Special Edition: My Family Is Different" is scheduled to run in prime time on June 18 and will examine "issues related to diversity, tolerance and respect, particularly to kids of same-sex parented families," according to the network's announcement.

Linda Ellerbee will host the half-hour program, which also promises to provide viewpoints from those who disapprove of gay parenting, among them Falwell.

News of the special, which was taped Wednesday, prompted criticism from the Washington, D.C.-based Traditional Values Coalition, an interdenominational public policy organization. Basing its criticism on "inside sources," the group's executive director, Andrea Lafferty, described the special as "pro-homosexual propaganda" and accused Nickelodeon of ignoring objections from parents, saying the channel is "no longer a safe haven" for children's viewing.

As with other "Nick News" specials, Ellerbee will approach the subject from a child's perspective, discussing the topic with a small group of kids in addition to interviewing those on both sides of the issue, including Falwell and O'Donnell.

Ellerbee stressed Thursday that the special was not a debate about homosexuality but rather about tolerance and diversity. "It's about not name-calling. It's about stopping violence," she said, adding that the Traditional Values Coalition had been asked to participate but declined.

The host also denied that O'Donnell attacked Christians during the taping, as the coalition asserted in a press release, reading from a transcript quoting the talk-show host as saying, "I am telling you there are Christians who don't believe homosexuality is wrong."

"I really wish they would just watch the show before they make up their minds," Ellerbee said.

Lafferty acknowledged that her organization was approached but said she felt the issue was "not appropriate for 8-year-old kids" and pertained to such a small percentage of children that it is "very clear what Nickelodeon's agenda is."

Past specials under the award-winning "Nick News" banner have focused on AIDS, racism and, most recently, the Sept. 11 terror attacks and children of Afghanistan. Ellerbee said she is planning further installments under the heading "My Family Is Different," dealing with such areas as mixed-race children and children of divorce.

"I watch 'Nick News' with my kids," noted Joan Garry, executive director of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, who said it is important for Nickelodeon to devote time to such discussions. "This is a show about broadening kids' understanding of a variety of social issues ... and kids live in a world with an increasing number of gay and lesbian people in their lives."

O'Donnell, who publicly acknowledged that she is a lesbian earlier this year as her popular daytime talk show came to an end, has been featured on Nickelodeon frequently, recently hosting the channel's Kids Choice Awards.

Nickelodeon is television's most popular network among children. It is owned by Viacom, which is developing a channel devoted to gay and lesbian viewers.

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