CONTROVERSIAL CARTOON: The marriage that got banned in Alabama and apparently Arkansas, too. PBS/'Arthur'

The Arkansas Educational Television Network didn’t broadcast the first episode of the animated series “Arthur” May 13 that included a same-sex marriage.

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Alabama Public Television has been in the news around the world this week for its decision not to air the first episode of the show’s 22nd season, “Mr. Ratburn and the Special Someone.”  Alabama ran a re-run that day.

That news prompted me to check AETN programming. On May 13, in the “Arthur” time slot, the AETN schedule indicates it aired the first episode of the show’s 18th season, “The Tattletale Frog/D.W. and Bud’s Higher Purpose.” The next day, it picked up on the 22nd season at episode 2, the schedule indicates.

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UPDATE: Julie Thomas, AETN’s director of marketing, responded to my question:

AETN was notified in April by PBS and producing station WGBH about the episode of Arthur entitled “Mr. Ratburn and the Special Someone”. We previewed the episode in question because content decisions that affect our smallest viewers and their parents are a major concern for us. While ideally parents watch our programming with their children and discuss it with them afterwards, the reality is that many children, some of them younger than age four, watch when a parent is not in the room. In realizing that many parents may not have been aware of the topics of the episode beforehand, we made the decision not to air it.

AL.com reported on the Alabama decision:

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Mike Mckenzie, director of programming at APT, said APT was notified by WGBH and PBS in mid-April about the episode titled “Mr. Ratburn and the Special Someone” and decided to show a re-run. Mckenzie said APT has no plans to air the episode at a later date.

“Parents have trusted Alabama Public Television for more than 50 years to provide children’s programs that entertain, educate and inspire,” Mckenzie said in an email. “More importantly – although we strongly encourage parents to watch television with their children and talk about what they have learned afterwards – parents trust that their children can watch APT without their supervision. We also know that children who are younger than the ‘target’ audience for Arthur also watch the program.”

Alabama pulled an episode of “Arthur” in 2005 in which a bunny character visited a girl with two mothers.

Arthur, the star of the show, is an anthropomorphic aardvark.  As Wikipedia puts it, the series often deals with issues families face such as illness and childhood disorders. It encourages reading and relationships with different sorts of people.

YouTube provides the scene above for those who might like to see what it looked like, as well as an interview with the creator about the episode.

I’d guess the noise would be louder in Arkansas had AETN run the episode because the PBS show is drawing flak from anti-gay voices on the web. It recalls Fred Schmutz, the late AETN program director, whose decisions to shield viewers from content he found objectionable provoked cries of censorship, as Tom Dillard recounts in a column here.

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UPDATE: For some reason AETN didn’t notify me of this (thanks to KARK’s Mark Moseley) and they didn’t respond to my question of why there was a ‘concern” about broadcast of a legal activity, but they apparently have relented and will provide an opportunity to view the episode. Was this always planned? If so, I wasn’t informed in the original statement. Did appearances matter? Let us hope.