Nickelodeon speaks out to defend controversial 'gay parenting' show

NEW YORK - Nickelodeon ended a three-month PR strategy last week by publicly defending its controversial news show that angered some parents with the subject matter: families with same-sex parents.

Since the show was announced in April, conservative groups, led by Washington, DC-based Traditional Values Coalition (TVC), have waged a fierce campaign to have the programme cancelled by the kids TV network, arguing that it promoted homosexuality.

Rather than respond to the criticism, Nickelodeon's PR staff decided the best strategy was to remain quiet until the content of the show, called 'Nick News Special Edition: My Family Is Different', was solidified.

"There was a good month when opponents were mobilising and we were silent," said Nickelodeon senior communications director David Bittler. "The PR plan was to let the show speak for itself. We chose, I think rather smartly, to remain quiet until we had a show and knew exactly how to talk about it."

Bittler adds that TVC was asked to recommend participants for the show, which also featured the lesbian comedienne Rosie O'Donnell, but declined.

The half-hour broadcast on June 18 largely avoided press attention despite the protest, until Nickelodeon sent out a release on June 6 announcing its airdate and offering advance copies to journalists and reviewers. Only then did mainstream outlets such as CNN and The New York Times begin to examine the program and the controversy around it.

By the time the programme aired, CNN was running an interactive poll on the topic, and broadcast icons such as NBC's Today show were calling both sides for interviews.

Nickelodeon then broke its silence with a media blitz that included sending show producer Linda Ellerbee on dozens of interviews, stressing the programme was an examination of bigotry rather than sexual issues, said Bittler.

"This is a responsible news story that will not offend anyone. If anything, it will illuminate issues of tolerance," he explained.

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