NEW YORK (AP) — Conservative groups are trying to kill in the cradle a prospective ABC sitcom about a family upended when a teenage son comes out as gay because sex columnist and gay rights activist Dan Savage is involved in the production.
The Media Research Center and Family Research Council said their members have sent more than 21,000 postcards and made more than 4,000 telephone calls asking ABC to abandon the series, tentatively titled "The Real O'Neals." ABC is not commenting on the effort, while Savage said it is misdirected.
The show, which features actress Martha Plimpton as the family matriarch, is one of 12 comedy pilots the network is considering. Generally, about half of those pilots — at most — will get the green light.
Savage, author of the "Savage Love" advice column, said the series evolved out of a meeting he had with ABC executives where aspects of his childhood that he has written about were discussed.
While elements of the pilot were inspired by his experiences growing up in Chicago — the father is a Chicago police officer — the show "has evolved throughout the development process and it wouldn't be accurate to describe it as autobiographical," said Savage, an executive producer of the series.
In some respects, the series development appears similar to the current ABC comedy "Fresh Off the Boat." That show, about a Taiwanese family trying to adjust to life in the United States, was inspired by food personality Eddie Huang's memoir about his childhood.
Savage's very involvement angers the conservative groups. In a letter sent to Ben Sherwood, president of the Disney/ABC Television Group, MRC president L. Brent Bozell and Family Research Council President Tony Perkins cited Savage's "radical hate speech" and "venomous anti-Christian bigotry."
"They're choosing him for his signature, which is religious bigotry and personal offensiveness, not because he's gay," Bozell said. "There are a thousand and one gay people they could have chosen."
Savage wrote in 2000 about volunteering for Republican Gary Bauer's presidential campaign and, suffering from the flu, licking doorknobs in the campaign office in an attempt to infect others. He also tried to give a definition involving a gay sex act to Republican Rick Santorum's name on Google.
"A campaign for or against the show isn't relevant at this point as the pilot isn't even finished yet," Savage said. "Again, the campaign ... is misdirected, as the show isn't by me — I'm not one of the writers — and it isn't about me."
Bozell said he hasn't received any reply from ABC. The early campaign offers ABC an interesting test as it decides over the next six weeks which pilots get picked up: should the network avoid "The Real O'Neals" because of the resistance, will it make network executives more determined to air the show, or will executives being able to drown out the noise and make a judgment solely on its potential for success?
Even without Savage's involvement, Bozell said his group would probably oppose the show.
"Would a show like this bother me?" he said. "Sure. It makes a political statement. Where is the market demand for this? You might even resign yourself that this is the way that it is, but when I heard it was Savage, I gasped in disbelief."
Seth Adam, spokesman for GLAAD, said Savage should be commended for helping gay, lesbian and transgender young people comfortable with who they are.
"What's clear is that inclusive shows are succeeding in the ratings and audiences not only accept LGBT characters but are beginning to expect LGBT characters," he said.