Fili-Bustered: Stations skip two-mommy show

After PBS pulled an episode of the new cartoon Postcards from Buster, citing the show's inclusion of lesbian parents, several PBS affiliates in liberal cities bucked the trend and chose to run it anyway.

Were local PBS stations among those rebels?

"It's not going to air," says Wanda Zimmerman, Harrisonburg-based WVPT's director of programming. "There hasn't been enough feedback to direct the station away from PBS's national position."

Conni Lombardo, vice president and general manager of Richmond-based WGBH, says her station came to the same conclusion.

"Our position is that Public Television made the decision not to release this episode," says Lombardo. "Therefore we don't have the program as part of the Postcards from Buster season."

Like Zimmerman, Lombardo says public outcry has been minimal.

"We haven't heard from a lot of people," she says. Of those who have contacted the station, she explains, "Most have indicated great concern about the censorship and attention being applied by the Secretary of Education."

Indeed, PBS's decision to pull the episode came immediately after scathing criticism from new Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings.

"Inappropriate," is how Spellings described the "Sugartime" episode that details Buster's trip to Vermont to learn about maple sugar. While there, Buster, an animated rabbit who's also a character on the hit PBS show Arthur, makes friends with two kids who live in homes headed by two women. Though the nature of those women's relationships is not explored– the episode focuses on maple sugaring– Spellings remained outraged.

"Many parents would not want their young children exposed to the lifestyles portrayed in the episode," she wrote in a letter to PBS honcho Pat Mitchell. Spellings initially asked that PBS, which uses federal funding to create many of its programs, return the approximately $125,000 in grants it used for this segment. She has since relented and encouraged PBS to create a replacement episode, minus a few mommies.

Some locals are outraged by the idea that the government is meddling in public programming.

"It's just so infuriating!" rages Hook columnist Janis Jaquith. "There were two mommies. Get over it!"

Rusty Speidel, father of three (and husband of one woman), says he'd have no problem with his children watching the show.

"I think it's an opportunity to educate," says Speidel. If one of his kids had asked a question about it, he says he would have had an answer ready. "I would have said it's important to be tolerant of all different lifestyles," he explains.

Others, however, support PBS' decision to keep the episode off the air.

"I agree with the decision to pull it," says local businessman Tyler Sewell, father of two preschoolers. "I just don't think we should be introducing the concept of homosexuality to young children. If God had intended homosexuals to raise children, he would have made it easy for them to do so."

While the debate over censorship and appropriate content rages, both Zimmerman and Lombardo insist PBS had decided not to air the episode some time before Spelling took her complaints public.

"PBS made the decision to remove that particular program after talking to public television stations for weeks," says Lombardo. "Unanimously," she says, "Virginia's PBS stations felt that parents should choose the time and place to discuss this issue."

Jaquith is not satisfied with the explanation. She wishes that the local PBS affiliates would buy the episode from its creator, Boston station WGBH, which is distributing the show to stations who want to run the entire Postcards from Buster season as it was created.

"Someone made a cartoon that's useful and entertaining for children," she says. "I don't think that the secretary of education has any right to twist anyone's arm to prevent us from seeing it."