HGTV has decided to scrap plans for a new reality series, “Flip It Forward,” after an online outcry over the views of one of its stars on gay marriage, abortion and Islam.
In the planned program, announced last month and originally slated to premiere in October, North Carolina-based twin brothers Jason and David Benham would have used real-estate expertise gleaned over a decade of house flipping to help “a deserving family find a fixer-upper and transform it into their forever home -- with a healthy dose of sibling rivalry between the brothers along the way.”
On the surface, “Flip It Forward” sounded like a slightly more inspirational version of shows already on the network, like “Property Brothers” and “Brother vs. Brother,” each of which features telegenic twin brothers.
But David Benham, in addition to being a successful real-estate entrepreneur, is also an outspoken opponent of gay marriage and abortion rights as well as a vocal critic of Islam, according to a report issued Tuesday by liberal watchdog Right Wing Watch.
At the 2012 Democratic National Convention, Benham led a prayer rally against “homosexuality and its agenda that is attacking the nation.” In blog posts, he has said that gay marriage “erodes the moral fabric of our society” and has likened the growing acceptance of same-sex marriage to appeasement of the Nazis.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, Benham has expressed controversial views on Islam, saying the religion "takes life and enslaves it,” and is a spokesman for Operation Save America, an anti-abortion group headed by his father, Flip Benham, that has also been highly critical of Muslims. A YouTube video uncovered by Right Wing Watch depicts David Benham protesting outside an abortion clinic, which he compares to “the gates of hell."
The Benham patriarch is well-known for his inflammatory opinions on social issues, having suggested that abortion was to blame for 9/11 and that the Columbine, Aurora and Virginia Tech mass shootings were the result of a “culture of death” promoted by the Democratic Party.
Following the revelations about the Benham family, HGTV announced Wednesday via Facebook and Twitter that it would not be moving forward with the series. The Scripps-owned network has declined to comment further.
While Jason Benham does not appear to be as outspoken as his brother, in a statement released Thursday the pair presented a unified front, saying, “We were saddened to hear HGTV’s decision. With all of the grotesque things that can be seen and heard on television today you would think there would be room for two twin brothers who are faithful to our families, committed to biblical principles, and dedicated professionals. If our faith costs us a television show then so be it.”
As noted by Slate writer J. Bryan Lowder, the Benhams were a slightly off-brand pick for the quietly inclusive HGTV, which regularly features same-sex couples on its signature series “House Hunters” and “House Hunters International” and LGBT contestants on the competition program “HGTV Design Stars.” The network also recently announced plans to launch “Ellen’s Design Challenge,” a furniture design show from producer Ellen DeGeneres, in 2015.
Still, it is unclear how the brothers’ personal beliefs would have influenced their series, if at all. In their statement, the Benhams said they have not, and would never, “discriminate against people who do not share our views.”
HGTV’s decision has also sparked a counter-protest from the right. Faith Driven Consumer, an advocacy group that launched the “I Stand With Phil” campaign following A&E’s suspension of “Duck Dynasty” star Phil Robertson earlier this year, has announced a new campaign, dubbed #FlipThisDecision, urging HGTV to reinstate “Flip It Forward.”
“HGTV’s rash actions hold no place in America’s rainbow of diversity. Whether people agree or disagree with the Benhams’ faith-driven perspective is beside the point; the Benhams have a right to have those views and to be treated equally with those who hold to other viewpoints. This is the very definition of tolerance,” said Chris Stone, founder of Faith Driven Consumer, in a statement.