WELCOME TO THE NEIGHBORHOOD….Remember “Welcome to the Neighborhood,” the ABC reality series that was cancelled before it aired last year? It starred six couples ? African-American, Hispanic, Korean, tattooed, Wiccan, gay ? who competed to win a house in a neighborhood whose residents “overwhelmingly identified themselves as white, Christian and Republican.”

The New York Times has a story today suggesting that the series was cancelled because Disney, ABC’s parent, was worried about a backlash from conservative Christian groups whose support it wanted for the rollout of the Narnia film later in the year. It’s worth clicking the link to read the whole story, but here’s the part that’s really worth reading. The winner, it turns out, was a gay couple, Stephen and John Wright:

The neighbor who was the Wrights’ earliest on-camera antagonist ? Jim Stewart, 53, who is heard in an early episode saying, “I would not tolerate a homosexual couple moving into this neighborhood” ? has confided to the producers that the series changed him far more than even they were aware.

No one involved in the show, Mr. Stewart said, knew he had a 25-year-old gay son. Only after participating in the series, Mr. Stewart said, was he able to broach his son’s sexuality with him for the first time.

“I’d say to ABC, ‘Start showing this right now,’ ” Mr. Stewart said in an interview at his oak kitchen table. “It has a message that needs to be heard by everyone.”

Damn. When I first heard about it, this show sounded like just another piece of crass reality TV Babbittry that I was just as happy we’d been spared seeing. But maybe I was wrong. It sounds like it might have been a worthwhile show after all.

And it makes me wonder: for all we hear about how the Christian right is practically a fourth branch of government these days, is it really true? Sure, it sounds like Disney may have buckled under to them in this case, but on the other hand it’s inconceivable that “Welcome to the Neighborhood” could even have been produced as recently as 10 or 15 years ago. If the Christian right is really so all-powerful, how is it that they’ve lost so much ground in such a short time?

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