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TV Notes: Amish reality show sparks UPN protest

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

"Sex and the City" called it quits Sunday, just as things are getting really hot for "Amish in the City." And not in a good way.

On Friday morning, U.S. Rep. Joe Pitts, R-Chester, staged a news conference on a farm in Lancaster County to blast UPN's plans for a reality series in which 16-year-old members of the Amish community leave their families to join non-Amish teenagers in a house in a city yet to be determined. Casting reps for UPN are scouring Amish communities for five teenagers willing to participate in the program, tentatively called "Amish in the City."

Pitts also drafted a letter, signed by 50 other members of Congress, to CBS CEO Leslie Moonves, who also oversees UPN, and to Viacom president and CEO Mel Karmazin (Viacom owns both networks), suggesting that if UPN airs the program, they are bigots.

And an Amish leader in Pennsylvania has sent a letter to Moonves imploring him to scrap the project. He has not yet received a response.

"Our religion is very sacred and precious to us," the Amish leader wrote. "We are very concerned and very much opposed to having the Amish used as subject material for any movie or television production. The Amish wish to live a quiet and peaceful life and do not appreciate the added attention and unwanted publicity this TV series will bring to the Amish Communities."

Coming on the heels of congressional hearings in which lawmakers excoriated Viacom over CBS's MTV-produced Super Bowl halftime show, the rally against "Amish in the City" could hardly have come at a worse time for Viacom.

"This 'social experiment,' as Mr. Moonves calls it, can only serve to take advantage of vulnerable young people at a time when they are making decisions about their faith that will affect the rest of their lives," Pitts said Friday morning. "This, on the heels of CBS's scandalous Super Bowl halftime show, simply confirms that CBS's credibility is sorely lacking, as is its judgment."

UPN has not released many details on the series, which is being developed for summer telecast, other than to say that the Amish teenagers would interact with the non-Amish teenagers and would be exposed to various experiences they do not have in their communities. Calling it a fish-out-of-water series, UPN programming chief Dawn Ostroff assured TV critics at the television press tour in Los Angeles last month that it would be respectful of the Amish faith.

Ostroff said the series is based on the Amish coming-of-age experience known as "rumspringa" ("running around"), in which teenagers are allowed to have experiences outside their faith before deciding whether to join the Amish church. But several authorities on the Amish say that almost no young people travel far from home to go through this process, in which Amish teenagers are allowed to socialize with less parental supervision. The rare youth who does head for the big city is not representative of the Amish community, they say.

UPN issued a statement about the series, saying it "and the show's producers have every intention of treating the Amish, their beliefs and their heritage with the utmost respect and decency. "

Pitts on Friday urged Amish teenagers approached by CBS's casting representatives to "protect their community and refuse to participate in this mockery."

(Lisa de Moraes, The Washington Post)

'Sex' ends

It took them six years to realize it, but Carrie Bradshaw and Mr. Big were meant for each other.

Many fans knew that all along, of course, despite numerous other men Carrie dated during the romantic, raunchy run of "Sex and the City."

So Sunday's finale was an answered prayer for viewers who, as the big day approached, had rooted for Carrie to choose Big over Aleksandr, the self-involved artist who enticed her to leave her beloved New York and move with him to Paris.

After almost 100 installments, this top-secret, much-hyped conclusion made good on its pledge to resolve the love life of New York sex columnist Carrie. Played by series star Sarah Jessica Parker, she returned to Manhattan with Big (Chris Noth), the on-again/off-again businessman beau with whom she first struck sparks on the HBO series' premiere.

With "Sex" the first of three long-running comedies (along with "Friends" and "Frasier" on NBC) coming to an end to this season, its finale set a standard the others will be hard-pressed to attain.

Meanwhile, it nicely tied up some loose ends concerning Carrie's three gal pals:

Miranda, the hard-nosed realist played by Cynthia Nixon, remained a happy mother and the wife of bartender Steve, living in Brooklyn (where she opened her heart, and home, to Steve's ailing mother, inviting her to come live with them).

Charlotte, the idealist (Kristin Davis), and her husband, Harry (formerly her divorce lawyer), got their wish after many disappointments: They'll be adopting a baby girl from China.

And hot-blooded Samantha (Kim Cattrall) was solid with her boy-toy hunk, Smith, despite the loss of her sex drive from her successful treatment for breast cancer. In a tender exchange, he declared his love for her and she tearfully replied, "You've meant more to me than any man I've ever known."

Voila! A few scenes later, Samantha was her lusty self. Her final line on "Sex and the City" was a protracted howl of pleasure.

(Frazier Moore, Associated Press)

Chisholm back at WPXI?

Darieth Chisolm, former WPXI anchor, was back at the station Sunday running tests in the studio with anchor David Johnson.

Channel 11 news director Pat Maday confirmed she is a candidate for the vacant 11 p.m. anchor spot, the same position she left in 2000.

"We obviously have some strong candidates internally here at the station, strong candidates here in Pittsburgh -- i.e. Darieth -- but we're looking across the country," Maday said yesterday. "She's already done the job once, she did it very well. There's no question she can do it or Newlin [Archinal] or Stacia [Erdos]. It all comes down to who's the best available candidate at the station, in Pittsburgh, across the country."

Maday said it's "realistic" that a new 11 p.m. anchor, replacing the departed Gina Redmond, will be in place by May sweeps.

At press time, Chisolm had not returned a call seeking comment.

(Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV editor)

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