Margaret Spellings, the nation's new secretary of education, sent an ominous letter to PBS president and CEO Pat Mitchell last week that should wake up anyone still dreaming of the halcyon days of liberal public television programming. Spellings informed the network that an as-yet-unaired episode of a kids' show featuring a lesbian couple should not have received aid from the Ready-to-Learn federal television fund because "many parents would not want their young children exposed to the lifestyles portrayed." The network then chose not to distribute the episode to its nearly 350 member stations (though WGBH-TV, the Boston station which created the series, will make it available). Spellings even suggested that PBS refund the money it received to produce the episode, and scolded, "You can be assured that in the future the department will be more clear as to its expectations for any future programming that it funds."
Postcards From Buster regularly details the digicam adventures of an inquisitive animated bunny and his encounters with people and places of differing backgrounds. The episode in question highlights a trip to Vermont, a state well-known for its groundbreaking same-sex civil unions, where Buster learns about farm life and enjoys a family meal with a young girl who has two mommies. According to CNN.com, Lea Sloan, vice president of PBS media relations, says the decision to pull the episode "was based on the fact that we recognize this is a sensitive issue." PBS Programming Senior Vice President John Wilson, quoted in USA Today, insists that the network had already planned to pull the episode because Buster's side trip to the dyke dinner was distracting from "what we had hoped would be a wonderful story about sugaring in Vermont."
While Buster, also a regular on the network's sensitive-aardvark series, Arthur, was unavailable for comment about either the sugaring or the Sapphic supper, several other beloved children's personalities spoke out about the shockwaves that Spellings' action was sending through the homo entertainment community.
"Well, it's sad, believe me, missy, when you're born to be a sissy, without the vim and verve," muses the Cowardly Lion, friend of Dorothy, contemplating the toll the assault on media visibility has on the confidence of gay children or children of gay parents. "But I could show my prowess, be a lion not a mow-ess, if I only had the nerve."
Others, particularly those affiliated with PBS's slew of other educational offerings, have darker fears.
"Tinky Winky is sure that Tinky Winky is next," shudders Tinky Winky, the purple Teletubby whose triangle-shaped headgear and ever-present handbag previously made him a notorious target of homophobic children's television watchdogs like the Rev. Jerry Falwell. "Tinky Winky think Spellings is Bush-kissing bigot."
"I gotta tell ya, if Big Bird could lay eggs, he would've dropped a major one when he heard the news," admits Ernie, fondling his rubber ducky from the safety of his Sesame Street bathtub. "I haven't seen him this upset since no one would believe him about Snuffleupagus."
The effeminate yellow fowl is evidently convinced that the TV industry, already plagued by the sanctimonious hyperbole surrounding Janet Jackson's Super Bowl nipple, is in for a new McCarthyism.
"He's been loping around the neighborhood muttering 'fundamentalist witchhunt,'" Ernie notes, adding impishly, "Heeeeheeeeheeeeheeeeheeee."
Bert, Ernie's companion of the past 36 years, remains tight-lipped and tense.