UPDATED with Deadline interview: David Benham says he loves gays and has nothing against them but hates the gay “agenda” that “seeks to silence men and women of faith.” Appearing with his twin brother Jason on CNN‘s Erin Burnett UpFront the day after HGTV announced it would not move forward with a new show starring the twins called Flip It Forward, David said, “We shouldn’t be afraid of losing our livelihood.”
HGTV announced on its Facebook page Wednesday that it was scrapping plans for the upcoming series after a report emerged identifying one of its stars as an activist against gay marriage and abortion. After the CNN interview, David told Deadline he and his brother had been “really excited” about the reality series, thinking it would give them “that opportunity to show America that you can be Christian and not be so extreme on one side of an issue that you’re not loving toward people. I was excited about that opportunity,” he said.
But he has no hope the project might be resuscitated when the controversy dies down, in much the same way Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson was suspended for incendiary comments he made in a GQ interview but was allowed to return fairly quickly, after some media and fans pushed back. “With Duck Dynasty, they already had a following,” David told Deadline on Thursday. “With Jason and I, we didn’t even get out of the batter’s box. HGTV made a decision based on one tiny segment of our culture, and had they heard from the rest of the culture, I think it would have been different. At this point, it’s over.” After being informed by HGTV execs they were not moving forward with the show, he said, he originally thought they would continue filming to complete the original episode order, but this afternoon M2 Pictures contacted them, “saying they’re pulling everything – it’s all done.”
He continued: “We were told by someone close to us, in a high place, ‘You and your brother at this point have an image problem’ — and we need to rebuild our image,” David Benham told Deadline. “A smear campaign was run, and Jason and I are not going to try and correct a smear campaign.” He said he and his brother will “be a voice for truth and help those people that are intimidated by these folks, if that rebrands our image, so be it – but that’s not our goal.”
HGTV spent today declining to discuss the situation in any way with the media except to email the same statement it had put up on its Facebook page yesterday about its decision to “not move forward” with the Benham twins’ series. That move came after Right Wing Watch — a project of People For the American Way — reported that David Benham had, among other things, led protests outside abortion clinics during which he praised demonstrators for taking a stand “at the gates of hell,” had compared the Christian church’s unwillingness to stand up to the gay “agenda” to the strategy of appeasing the Nazis in Germany, had made statements against Muslims, etc.
“We love homosexuals and love Muslims and have nothing against” either, David told Burnett this evening. “The point of this is there’s an agenda that is seeking to silence the voice of men and women of faith. That’s what all this is about. I absolutely think any sex outside marriage is not healthy for human flourishing. I think it’s very important we set the record straight,” he said, adding, “There’s a difference between people and agenda.”
The brothers told Burnett HGTV execs did not explain to them why they had decided not to move forward with the show, which they had announced just last month. The Benham brothers had found out HGTV had decided to pull the plug on the show in a phone conference call Wednesday.
David Benham told Deadline this evening that he and his brother were aware yesterday of the web report by Right Wing Watch saying HGTV had picked “Anti-Gay, Anti-Choice Extremist For New Reality TV Show” was tearing across the media landscape. But the brothers “had no clue HGTV was going to fire us.”
“We had talked with HGTV – over a year ago we had this face-to-face conversation and they said they saw there is no hate in us. The made the offer to me and my brother,” he said. According to Benham, they had also received interest from another television network but “chose to go with HGTV because of their family-friendly programming.”
“They never told us why,” David said of the HGTV execs who broke the news to them on that phone call.
On CNN, David said, “We feel HGTV was bullied. … They knew who we were and believe in us. They were willing to take the chance with us.” He said they were halfway through filming the initial episode order when they “got cut off. “All this media firestorm … was too much for them to bear and they had to make a decision.”
Earlier in the day, the brothers issued a statement in which they said “anyone who suggests that we hate homosexuals or people of other faiths is either misinformed or lying. … Over the last decade, we’ve sold thousands of homes with the guiding principle of producing value and breathing life into each family that has crossed our path, and we do not, nor will we ever discriminate against people who do not share our views.”
The media spent today in Brady Bunch-esque postage-stamp groupings on TV screens, debating the fine points of the story — and reminding viewers that HGTV is owned by the same company that owns Food Network. That net, almost exactly a year ago, severed its relationship with Paula Deen after a lawsuit deposition sparked an N-word scandal, nuking her TV reign and multiple endorsement deals — a career nosedive hastened along with an interview on NBC’s Today that she botched so badly even Today panned it.
The Benhams’ father, Flip Benham, who has headed the abortion-clinic protest group Operation Save America, spent part of his day telling LifeSiteNews.com that his family had not been notified in advance of HGTV’s public statement about the network’s decision to back off on the series. “We have some contractual obligations to the people we are helping right now,” he said, and called the homosexual activist lobby “the biggest bully in the country,” adding, “There’s no one who dares oppose them. … No corporation would dare stand up to this juggernaut of the homosexual agenda.”
HGTV execs on that conference call with the Benham brothers yesterday assured them the network would honor its commitment to complete the work on the six fixer-upper homes in Charlotte, NC, that were to have been featured in the show’s initial batch of episodes. Initially, the brothers had believed production on the first batch of episodes also would continue; this afternoon, however, they heard from M2 Pictures that it would not move forward with shooting the remaining episodes; so the work on the houses, going forward, will go unfilmed.
Talking to Deadline tonight, David Benham said since the Right Wing Watch report came out and HGTV killed the show, “some of those closest to us in this business … are now kind of running from us … but those around the nation are flocking to us. It’s an interesting phenomenon — Jason and I are sitting back and watching. We genuinely have no ill feeling toward HGTV and wish the best for the network. We don’t have to have a show. We’re very content being husbands and fathers and real estate professionals in Charlotte. We would love to have a show – but don’t have to have one.”
Going forward, he told Deadline, “My hope is that I can convey that Jesus loves everyone and died for them and that my brother and I are family men; we believe in marriage between a man and a woman and that we can also have those beliefs and still be loving and compassionate toward all people.”