Homeschoolers Not Laughing About Release of New TV Sitcom

Homeschoolers are panning a new sitcom called The O'Keefees that portrays children from a "not-so-normal family" who have difficulty absorbing the realities of life in public school.

The show will air sometime this summer on The WB, serving as a midseason replacement. But even before homeschoolers have had the chance to see it, they're already lashing out at its portrayal of the fictional family.

The Home School Legal Defense Association became involved in the issue last month. The group's president, J. Michael Smith, wrote to Warner Bros. Chairman and CEO Barry Meyer to express his concerns on behalf of the 75,000 families the organization represents.

"We believe that the initial description of the sitcom is not an accurate portrayal of the homeschool movement at large," Smith wrote. "Homeschoolers are very concerned that the program not portray homeschooling in a negative light."

Smith, who wasn't available for comment, viewed a pilot of the sitcom Tuesday, which The WB released to the group. In his letter, Smith said he feared that the show would perpetuate certain myths about homeschooling.

According to The WB, the show is a semi-autobiographical comedy created by Executive Producer Mark O'Keefe. It stars actor Judge Reinhold as a father who, after prodding from his wife and kids, agrees to let two of his children attend public high school. A third child remains at home for schooling.

"This new half-hour family comedy series takes a humorous look at our so-called 'normal' society through the eyes of one not-so-normal family as they try to keep their own unique values alive in a world where conformity rules," according to The WB's description of the show.

Paul McGuire, a spokesman for The WB, said six episodes have already been filmed. The show was originally scheduled to air last summer, but it will instead be used sometime in the coming months.

McGuire said he personally responded to Smith with a phone call, but he hadn't spoken with him again as of Tuesday morning. The WB has received four additional letters expressing concern about the sitcom, McGuire said.

"The show rewards the values of this family," he said, "and I think people should take a look at it first before they judge it."

Even though The WB's description of the show called it a "semi-autobiographical comedy," McGuire said it was about a fictional family living in an imaginary world.

Those passionate about homeschooling have written more than 100 anonymous critiques of the concept behind the show on the website TV Tome, which hosts a message board and includes information about various sitcoms.

Homeschooling parent Isabel Lyman wrote in a February column for the libertarian Ludwig von Mises Institute that it was only a matter of time before Hollywood "discovered" homeschooling.

"It's infuriating, but not surprising, that homeschoolers, the largest group in the so-called school choice movement, still elicit scorn," Lyman wrote.

In his letter to Warner Bros., Smith challenged some of the myths he believes The O'Keefes will perpetuate. He said homeschoolers are normal American families, and students tend to score higher on tests and are better socialized than their public school counterparts.

As for Smith's offer to work with The WB on scripts for future episodes, McGuire said it was too soon to make any promises. The first six episodes are already taped, he said, and the show's future will depend on its ratings this summer.