Arthur‘s creator Marc Brown wasn’t happy to hear that Alabama Public Television pulled his beloved PBS series’ season 22 premiere because it featured a same-sex marriage.
The channel decided to air a re-run of a previous episode rather than the historic episode, which saw Mr. Ratburn — Arthur’s longtime teacher — marry his partner, to the surprise of his students who didn’t know he is gay.
Mike Mckenzie, the director of programming at APT, told AL.com that the decision came in mid-April when the channel was notified by WGBH and PBS about the episode, titled “Mr. Ratburn and the Special Someone.”
Back in 2005, Alabama Public Television decided to pull an episode of Arthur spinoff series Postcards from Buster that showed a live-action family with lesbian mothers.
“Our feeling is that we basically have a trust with parents about our programming,” Alabama Public Television’s then-executive director Allan Pizzato told AL.com in 2005. “This program doesn’t fit into that.”
Mckenzie had similar statements about Arthur‘s season 22 kickoff.
“Parents have trusted Alabama Public Television for more than 50 years to provide children’s programs that entertain, educate and inspire,” Mckenzie said in a statement, obtained by AL.com. “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.”
PEOPLE has reached out to Mckenzie for comment.
In a statement to PEOPLE, PBS said the same-sex marriage scene was crucial in accurately reflecting the “diverse communities” of children who watch the show.
“PBS KIDS programs are designed to reflect the diversity of communities across the nation. We believe it is important to represent the wide array of adults in the lives of children who look to PBS KIDS every day,” the network stated.
Meanwhile, Brown tells PEOPLE that he is “very disappointed” Alabama Public Television’s decision.
“I’m really proud of that episode. And I will defend it to anybody who wants to talk about it,” Brown says.
“Why shouldn’t their teacher marry another man? We all know people who are gay, who are trans, and it’s something that is socially acceptable. Why is there this discomfort that it takes a leap into our national media?” he adds. “I don’t want children or people who are different to feel excluded. That’s not the kind of world we want to live in. And we want children to be educated so they can see there’s not just one type of family. Everyone should feel represented. I think we did that with Arthur.”
Much of Brown’s determination comes from the frustration he felt after the Postcards From Buster backlash in 2005.
Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings condemned the episode at the time, causing the Department of Education and PBS to withdraw funds for the series. Brown remembers how upset that made the children of the family who were shown.
“With Postcards From Buster, we began that series after September 11, 2001 when we realized we didn’t really understand or know enough about one another,” he says. “The whole purpose of the show was to depict real families of all kinds — kids living with grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc. And here we had this family in Vermont with two moms, and the kids, when they pulled the episode, they were so upset. The question we got from them was, ‘Why can’t we be on TV? What’s wrong with us?’ ”
“I have never forgotten how difficult this was and how badly I felt for those children,” Brown says. “Nothing was wrong with them. And we had another chance with Arthur to correct that all these years later.”
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Arthur has been on the air since October 10, 1996. The show is the longest-running children’s animated series in the U.S., and is currently the second-longest running animated series in the U.S., behind The Simpsons, according to IMDb.
Regardless of Alabama Public Television’s decision, Brown promises to keep pushing to make sure Arthur explores new ways to expand the minds of its viewers.
“My good friend Fred Rodgers was so good at using television to educate kids and entertain them,” Brown notes. “We have a very powerful medium in television, and coupled with animation, it’s probably one of the most seductive forms of entertainment and eduction we can use to reach a child. Why not use it in a positive way?”
“When we began Arthur 22 years ago, the agenda we began with was to make children want to read. And it worked!” Brown says. “So each year, the writers and the producers sit down to decide what kind of subject matter we want to deal with. After 22 years you think, ‘We’ve done it all!’ Yet, here was another opportunity! It sill excites me that we can come up with stories that are going to be interesting and helpful to children.”
“I think the majority of television is being misused; it’s not helpful for children,” Brown adds. “We in this country have a real difficult time seeing an investment in our children’s education is probably the most important way we can spend money. It’s their future, it’s our future. And we’re sadly going down a very bleak road with the way we treat education in this country.”