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KBDI to air 'Buster' debate

 

KBDI-Channel 12 tonight will do what it does best - air a controversial program in prime time and then let viewers voice their opinions.

The show is the widely-debated episode of Postcards From Buster, the popular PBS children's series in which Buster, the animated rabbit who meets diverse individuals in his educational travels, visits two homes in which parents of kids are gay women.

Buster, offering a mix of animated and live figures, is designed to foster an awareness among children of the cultural diversity of America.

In this episode, called Sugartime, the animated rabbit travels to Vermont to mingle with kids, while learning, among other things, how maple syrup is made during "sugartime," considered a season between winter and spring.

This particular half-hour, which was never in the afternoon schedule as part of the main PBS lineup, will air at 7 p.m. and will be followed by a 90-minute edition of Colorado Inside Out Live, featuring a panel discussion and phone calls from viewers.

A rerun of the show will be broadcast at 8 a.m. Sunday.

The controversy arose after new U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings pressured PBS President Pat Mitchell, who already was considering yanking the episode from the network's schedule.

In a letter to Mitchell, Spellings wrote: "Many parents would not want their children exposed to the lifestyles portrayed in the episode."

Mitchell, fearing a potential cutback in federal funding if the controversy grew, had indicated to executives at Boston's WGBH-TV, the series producer, that Sugartime would not be fed to local stations.

KBDI President Wick Rowland says he's airing the program in prime time "for several reasons."

He feels that under terms of its federal grant, Postcards from Buster "is charged with informing children about the diversity of life in the United States and the many varied circumstances in which children and families live.

"The Sugartime episode directly meets that goal. We're not only pleased to offer the episode but want to use it as a basis for extended discussion on one of our signature, local prime-time public-affairs programs."

Rowland believes the Colorado Inside Out Live show will put an important focus on the national debate surrounding the "culture wars."

Host Peter Boyles will moderate the panel, which will include Gillian Pieper, one of the gay mothers featured in the episode. Channel 12 is flying her out from Vermont specifically for the live program.

For parents unaware of Buster's format, in previous episodes, he visited Muslims, Mormons, Orthodox Jews and Pentecostal Christians.

As children grow up in our diverse society, they will become acquainted with all sorts of family units - including lesbian moms. The latter shouldn't be excluded from Buster's travels.

Spellings and her "family values" battalions might have a point if Sugartime actually "promoted" the lesbian lifestyle. It doesn't.

No lectures are given, unless you consider the youngsters telling Buster about their happy family activities as a "gay message."

A main point here is that "family values" proponents have every right to disagree about the content of Sugartime. And now they'll have the opportunity to express those disagreements on live television.

That's a much better system than having scared PBS bureaucrats practicing censorship.

KRMA-Channel 6, Denver' main- line PBS outlet, which regularly carries Buster at 3 p.m. weekdays, aired the episode at 11:30 p.m. Saturday - not exactly prime time.

Program director Donna Sanford said the station felt parents should have the opportunity to see the program and make a determination if their children should watch it.

The program wasn't aired in prime time because the station did not want to disrupt the schedule at the last moment.

Sanford said she had no indication how many parents saw the program or taped it.

My estimation? Very few.

At last count, about 20 PBS stations around the country are airing the half-hour at a variety of times.

TODAY'S NOSTALGIA: Feb. 9, 1964, NBC concluded its two-part documentary on U.S. confrontations with Cuba. The Missile Crisis had been preceded by The Bay of Pigs.

Dusty Saunders is the broadcasting critic for the Rocky Mountain News. This column is reprinted courtesy of the Rocky Mountain News.

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