KOCE-TVChannel50hasalwaysstrivedtobecome more than a UHF rest home for Lawrence Welk reruns, Golden West College telecourses and Ed Arnold's helmet of hair. So it's strange that, when presented an opportunity to transform into a First Amendment pillar by airing a show about a chubby bunny and loving lesbians, they'd rather pass.
The program, PostcardsfromBuster,blends live-action and animation with popular children's character Buster Baxter assuming a Charles Kuralt role as he takes viewers across America to profile children and their parents. It's a gem of a half-hour that captures the Republic at its multi-culti best: previous episodes featured a Hmong family in Wisconsin, Cuban kids in Miami and the gustatory wonders of Gotham.
But it's this inclusionary ethos that makes PostcardsfromBusterdangerous to the Bush II Administration. On Jan. 25, Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings fired off a letter to PBS President Pat Mitchell attacking the gentle show. What specifically irked Spellings was an episode titled "Sugartime!" in which Buster visits a Vermont farm and indulges in maple syrup. The episode's sin? A little girl, Emma, who happens to have two mommies and shows Buster a picture of them. When Buster asks Emma why she likes the picture so much, Emma responds, "Because it has my mom and [her partner], the people I love a lot, and they mean a lot to me."
"Many parents would not want their young children exposed to the lifestyles portrayed in this episode," Spellings wrote. Madam Secretary further stated that the federal grants PBS received to fund PostcardsfromBuster"certainly was not to introduce this kind of subject matter to children" and urged Mitchell to not air "Sugartime!" and "strongly consider refunding to the Department the Federal education funds that were used for the episode."
Spellings got part of her wish: PBS declined to distribute "Sugartime!" to its 349 member stations. But some program directors nevertheless decided to air the episode (locally, KCET-TV Channel 28 screened it on Feb. 8). Public-television powerhouse WGBH-TV in Boston, which produces PostcardsfromBuster,plans to broadcast the controversial segment March 23 and offer it to other interested PBS stations that same date.
KOCE Spokeswoman Judith Schaefer admitted to being "surprised" at PBS' decision to yank "Sugartime!"—adding that the station received a couple of calls inquiring whether KOCE would broadcast the episode. But she refused to comment on KOCE's behalf. "I was surprised [at Spellings' letter], but that's an individual perception," she said. "You can't speak for everyone at the station."
Schaefer told the Weeklythat, since the station airs PostcardsfromBusteronly on Sunday, they have an entire week's worth of episodes from which to chose—and "Sugartime!" won't be the lucky one. "It's one that would not normally be on our schedule," Schaefer says, adding that current KOCE programming protocol mandates that station managers always choose the Thursday episode to air on Sunday. Since March 23 falls on a Wednesday, Schaefer says, "We're not being faced with that decision [to air "Sugartime!"], so it's not a decision we have to make, frankly."
Nor is it a decision it seems they'll ever have to make: KOCE's current television listings don't include any PostcardsfromBusterepisodes for the foreseeable future—though they still include SewingWithNancy,Paint!Paint!Paint!and, for the younger set, Clifford'sPuppyDays.Wonder if anyone's informed them the puppy was raised by two bitches?