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Lawmakers Ask UPN to Can Amish Reality Show

Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.) and 50 other lawmakers want UPN to pull the plug on its planned summer reality show, tentatively titled Amish in the City.

As a follow-up to a letter they sent two weeks ago, Pitts held a news conference on a Lancaster, Pa., farm (in his district) Friday to ask again that the show not run. In the program, Amish youth are "paired with mainstream youth in an urban setting."

During a rite of passage for some Amish young people called "rumspringa," they are allowed to live outside of the community and its restraints, then reenter–or not–of their own free will.

"For almost three centuries, the Amish have lived the way they do out of Christian piety and conviction, not out of ignorance," the lawmakers wrote to CBS President Leslie Moonves and Viacom President Mel Karmazin. "If, by producing this show, you fail to respect that, you will be opening yourself up to charges of bigotry."

Evoking a sort of Amish version of MTV’s Real World, UPN describes the show as exploring "five Amish young adults as they come to a major city to live in a house with five mainstream adults."

In a statement in response to Pitts, UPN said: "Through every step of the process, UPN and the show’s producers have every intention of treating the Amish, their beliefs, and their heritage with the utmost respect and decency. Any young Amish adults who do choose to participate in this reality show will do so only of their own free will and with absolutely full knowledge of the content, nature and intent of the program. And since this show is still early in the development stage, we sincerely hope that any judgment will be reserved until the show is produced."

Pitts last week explained that the Amish do not permit themselves to be filmed, since that violates the ban on graven images. "In order to appear on the proposed show," he said, "any Amish youth would first have to break with one of the most well-known tenets of Amish doctrine."

At the news conference, Pitts said he was speaking for his more than 20,000 Amish constituents when he asked Moonves, who also oversees UPN, not to "put our Amish youth in a cage to be laughed at like animals at the zoo."

The fallout from CBS’s Super Bowl snafu continued, with Pitts using that to buttress his case, as well as an Indian group’s complaint about a Grammy telecast production number featuring what the group felt was a racist parody. CBS has already said it was sorry if anyone was offended by the production number.

"Unless CBS wants a permanent reputation as the network of sleaze and disrespect, I suggest they cancel this program," Pitts said.