Pol Wants to Pre-Screen Amish Show

The office of Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.) has put in a call to UPN asking for a private screening of controversial new reality show Amish in the City. UPN announced a July 28 debut for the series Thursday.

Last March, UPN decided to go ahead with the series, which looks at the Amish rite-of-passage known as rumspringa, despite requests from some legislators and Amish groups that it pull the plug. They argued that the series would exploit the religion and pointed out that being filmed violates prohibitions on graven images.

A Pitts staffer says the news of the debut took them by surprise and that they put in the call to UPN almost immediately.  "We want to make a fair judgment of the show," said the staffer, "though regardless of content we still believe the filming was an extreme violation of their religious beliefs." Pitts has about 18,000 Amish constituents in a district that includes all of Lancaster County, Pa.

During Rumspringa, Amish youth are allowed to live outside of the community and its restraints, then reenter–or not–of their own free will. Evoking a sort of Amish version of MTV’s Real World, youth journeying outside the community are brought to the city to live with urban youth, with UPN chronicling the interaction.

(ER viewers got a taste of the ritual in a story arc last season featuring a couple on the spiritual journey, one of whom decides to return to the community, while the other does not.)

"We have total respect for what critics and Congressmen are saying," said Dawn Ostroff, UPN’s president of entertainment, in announcing the green light last March. "We have every intention of treating the Amish and their heritage with the utmost respect and decency."

Ostroff reiterated that sentiment Thursday in announcing the special two-hour premiere: "Foremost in our minds as we went forward was to treat with the highest respect the young Amish people who were entering a world they had never before experienced," she said.

No word yet on whether UPN will provide Pitts and company with the private screening, but a UPN spokesman said the network is considering holding a panel and screening of the show at the TV Critics Association summer tour July 20.

Pitts' initial reaction to the announcement of the show last February was to hold a news conference on a Lancaster, Pa., farm, and ask UPN "not to put our Amish youth in a cage to be laughed at like animals at the zoo."

And what if Pitts gets his private screening and doesn't like what he sees? The staffer wasn't commenting beyond saying: "We are keeping our options open."

Amish In the City will be a weekly hour series, airing Wednesday at 8-9.

UPN identified the urban youth in the show as "a handsome swim teacher, a fashion-forward party girl, a colorful club promoter, a busboy/musician, an inner-city student, and a strict vegan." Among the new experiences for the Amish were a trip to the ocean, a helicopter ride to a resort and hitting the red carpet for a movie premiere.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.