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UPN Won't Give Tape to Congressman

UPN has said a polite "no" to Pennsylvania Republican Congressman Joe Pitts' request to pre-screen its Amish in the City reality show, according to a senior Pitts staffer. UPN would not comment beyond pointing out that it would be screening the show for TV critics July 20.

"Our request for a pre-screener got the smackdown from UPN," said the staffer, adding that the Senator plans to express his public displeasure in a statement Friday that will call on UPN affiliates to follow the lead of WLYH-TV Lancaster, Pa., and request a screening copy before they decide whether or not to air the show, which debuts July 28.

The staffer also said the senator would ask any stations that decided to request  a screener to contact his office so he could keep track.

According to WLYH-TV GM Matt Uhl, the network has contacted him, has not ruled out giving him the copy and will let him know next Tuesday.

Both Pitts and Uhl are concerned that the show is exploitive and wanted to run it by some community leaders.

UPN says it isn't, but Pitts argues that the very fact that it films Amish youth means that it violates a basic prohibition on the making of graven images. Both Uhl and Pitts are also concerned that it expoits' the spiritual journey of "rumspringa," in which some Amish youth leave the community, then can choose for themselves whether to stay or go.

UPN took put some of those spiritual travelers together with some urban youth in a kind of Amish Real World. UPN programming chief Dawn Ostroff has said the show is respectful of Amish tradition.

Pitts, whose constituents include some 18,000 Amish, has been opposed to the show from the outset, while Uhl says he just wants to be able to judge for himself and his market whether it is appropriate. Uhl says he may run it, may preempt it, or possibly delay it until midnight.

It's not as though there isn't viewer interest in the show, says Uhl. A station poll is currently running at 54% for airing the show, 41% against. In addition, he says, when it was first announced, the station got 14 e-mails from surfers claiming to be Amish teens and asking how they could get on the show.