A&E has canceled its new eight-part documentary series about the lives of families involved with the Ku Klux Klan after a breach of what the network said was a commitment not to provide funds to those involved in the show.
In a statement Saturday, the network said it found out 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," the network said. "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 controversial project had already gone through a title change after facing criticism.
The network originally called the series "Generation KKK," but has changed the title to "Escaping the KKK: A Documentary Series Exposing Hate in America."
The documentary series was set to air Jan. 10 before its cancellation. The network has said the program would reflect its commitment to help "families escape" and expose the hate.
On the name change, the network said, "There has been an outpouring of concern and we at A&E have been listening and we understand. In consultation with our partners at the ADL and Color Of Change, the name of Generation KKK has been changed to ensure that no one can mistake the show's intent."
Describing the focus of the show, Executive Vice President and General Manager of A&E and Lifetime Rob Sharenow said the series was meant to show how hate groups evolve. The goal is to "expose and combat racism and hatred in all its forms and we appreciate the valuable feedback we have received," Sharenow said in a statement.
Earlier in the week, "Grey's Anatomy" star Ellen Pompeo tweeted, "So I guess A&E stands for ...we will try to put Anything and Everything on tv... because we are a bunch of desperate pathetic tv execs."
So I guess A&E stands for ...we will try to put Anything and Everything on tv... because we are a bunch of desperate pathetic tv execs — Ellen Pompeo (@EllenPompeo) December 21, 2016
"The @aetv doc is abt extracting families from the KKK & exposing hate. ADL supports," A&E tweeted a response to the actor.
The network, in consultation with civil rights organizations including the Anti-Defamation League and Color of Change, said it would create educational curricula and other materials to help contextualize the show's content.
The series is "a laudable effort to understand and expose the Ku Klux Klan from the inside out," ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt had told Variety. "We believe that A&E's audience is educated and sophisticated enough to understand what they are watching. The individuals involved in these racist groups are not heroes, they are haters."
"After reviewing the promotions and episodes and participating in substantive conversations with A&E executives, we are pleased to see that the network is taking seriously concerns that the show — newly titled 'Escaping the KKK: A Documentary Series Exposing Hate in America' — required important additional components — such as specific in-show educational context and content and a post-show town hall as we both want to work together to ensure that it did not normalize and humanize racism and white supremacy," Rashad Robinson, Color of Change executive director, said in a statement.
The KKK came back into focus during the 2016 presidential campaigns when former KKK head David Duke endorsed Donald Trump for president. Trump initially refused to condemn racist groups that would support his candidacy.
In one of the trailers for the show, a Klan imperial wizard says, "I wanna be the next David Duke. I want to see him saying my name at presidential debates." He also says, "You gotta be 18 years old to join the Klan, but I have the junior Klan and I bring a lot of the young kids in and I teach 'em how to be a Klansman and how to be a great Klanswoman."