12:38pm PT by THR staff
A&E Cancels KKK Docuseries Following Criticism
A&E has pulled the plug on its upcoming docuseries centered on the KKK.
The network announced their plans to scrap the project, which was intended to serve as a close look at anti-hate extractors focused on helping people leave the Ku Klux Klan, in a statement released Saturday.
"Our goal with this series has always been to expose and combat racism and hatred in all its forms," the network said in a statement. "However, A&E learned last night from the third-party producers who made the documentary that cash payments — which we currently understand to be nominal — were made in the field to some participants in order to facilitate access. While we stand behind the intent of the series and the seriousness of the content, these payments are a direct violation of A&E’s policies and practices for a documentary. We had previously provided assurances to the public and to our core partners — including the Anti-Defamation League and Color of Change — that no payment was made to hate group members, and we believed that to be the case at the time. We have now decided not to move forward with airing this project."
The network went on to say, "A&E takes the authenticity of its documentary programming and the subject of racism, hatred and violence very seriously. Just because this particular show goes away, the issues of hate in America do not. We will still seek to fight hate in America through on-air programming including town halls and documentary programs produced in partnership with civil rights organizations, as well as continue to work with the civil rights community to facilitate a deeper dialogue on ending hate through comprehensive educational and outreach campaigns."
Though network brass were amped about the project, the latest play for prestige documentary, the backlash came swiftly. There was considerable outcry on Twitter for giving the KKK an outlet on TV. Amid that criticism, A&E announced Friday evening that it had renamed the series -- from Generation KKK to Escaping the KKK -- to make intentions more clear. That, it turns out, was not going to be enough.
It marks an exceptionally swift demise for the project. A&E's decision not to air the series came less than a week after its announcement. The network had been working on the series for a year and a half with the productionc company This Is Just a Test, which had cameras embedded with members of the group for the past year.
Once set to premiere Jan. 10, the project had received an eight-episode order.
To further avoid criticism, A&E announced a partnership with the Anti-Defamation League in connection with the series. After the project drew public outcry, most notably from Grey's Anatomy star Ellen Pompeo, A&E changed the name and announced a partnership with a second group, Color of Change, the next-generation African-American civil-rights organization.
A&E and Lifetime evp and general manager Rob Sharenow spoke with THR about the project, which he promised would be an "ugly" but "important" look at the organization shortly after it was announced to defend the series order. "It's quite shocking, but I think that's important," he said. "As a broadcaster, I really think the message of anti-hate is important, timeless and moral."
The holidays haven't been that easy for A&E in recent history. It was three years ago this week that the network created a media meltdown when Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson (his show then at the height of its popularity) was outed for homophobic and racist comments made in an interview and public speaking engagements. A&E suspended Robertson right before Christmas, ultimately reinstating home several days later. It was a PR nightmare and marked the beginning of a rapid ratings decline for the former reality flagship.