Alabama Public Television opted not to air a recent “Arthur” episode featuring a beloved character's same-sex wedding, saying it made the decision as not to violate its audience's “trust.”
The episode, titled “Mr. Ratburn and the Special Someone,” features Arthur's teacher, Mr. Ratburn, getting married to a chocolatier named Patrick. The episode, which originally aired nationwide on May 13, also featured Jane Lynch as a guest star, voicing Mr. Ratburn’s sister.
This was the first time Mr. Ratburn’s sexuality has been mentioned since the long-running PBS series first aired in 1996.
The Alabama station chose not to run the episode, according to Mike McKenzie, Alabama Public Television's director of programming and public information.
“Parents have trusted Alabama Public Television for more than 50 years to provide children’s programs that entertain, educate and inspire. More importantly – although we strongly encourage parents to watch television with their children and talk about what they have learned afterwards – parents trust that their children can watch APT without their supervision,” McKenzie said in a statement.
He added that the network also has children watching “who are younger than the 'target' audience for 'Arthur.'”
“The storyline about Mr. Ratburn’s marriage conveys a positive message that many parents feel is entirely appropriate. Many other parents disagree, either because their children are too young, or because of their beliefs,” McKenzie continued. “The vast majority of parents will not have heard about the content, whether they agree with it or not, and our greatest concern was taking away these parents’ choice.”
Parents who want watch the episode can do so online at PBS with their children, McKenzie said.
Alabama Public Television previously pulled an episode of “Arthur” in 2005 when another character visited a girl who had two mothers, according to AL.com.
Regarding the network's recent episode, PBS KIDS said in a statement that diversity and representation is an important aspect of their programming.
“PBS KIDS programs are designed to reflect the diversity of communities across the nation. We believe it is important to represent the wide array of adults in the lives of children who look to PBS KIDS every day.”
An online petition calling for the Alabama state flag to be changed to an image of Mr. Ratburn's wedding received thousands of signatures.
Similarly, Arkansas Educational Television Network said it was notified by PBS about the episode in April and made a decision not to air it on its main channel.
“We previewed the episode in question because content decisions that affect our smallest viewers and their parents are a major concern for us," said Julie Thomas, the network's director of marketing and engagement. "While ideally parents watch our programming with their children and discuss it with them afterwards, the reality is that many children, some of them younger than age four, watch when a parent is not in the room. In realizing that many parents may not have been aware of the topics of the episode beforehand, we made the decision not to air it on our main channel. The episode aired on AETN PBS KIDS (AETN-3).”
The animated educational series follows 8-year-old Arthur Read, an aardvark, as well as his friends and family in the fictional town of Elwood City. It is based on the “Arthur Adventure” book series.
This story was reported from Los Angeles.