Culture > Television

Getting religion

Television | Hollywood is planning a raft of new series built around religious themes, but many of them are controversial

Issue: "Who will be the next pope?," April 16, 2005

Last year Joan of Arcadia was a surprise hit for CBS. The drama about a teenage girl who sees God in different guises stops short of Christianity, but it is well done and takes both teenagers and theology seriously. Now, after only the second season, the audience has dropped dramatically, and the show's fans are fighting the prospect of its cancellation.

Still, Hollywood is planning a raft of new series built around religious themes. Unfortunately, Hollywood's notion of religion-and how profitable it can be-is conditioned not only by The Passion of the Christ but also by The Da Vinci Code.

On April 13, NBC premiers Revelations, a six-episode mini-series about a secular scientist and a nun who realize that the events described in the book of Revelation are taking place. Sort of a nonevangelical version of Left Behind.

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In September, Fox will feature Briar & Graves, in which a female doctor and an excommunicated priest investigate strange religious phenomena. Sort of a cross (some say) between The X-Files and The Exorcist.

NBC is considering a pilot for The Book of Daniel, about an Episcopal minister who talks to what The Wall Street Journal describes as a "hip, modern-day Jesus," who helps him deal with his drug habit, his marijuana-selling daughter, and his gay son. Think Joan of Arcadia meets a dark, dysfunctional Seventh Heaven.

These shows want to be edgy and controversial-why an excommunicated priest? why the gay son? why are there no evangelical Christians?-but that may backfire.

"Successful attempts in the past have embraced a nonthreatening, universal spirituality rather than overt Christianity," observed commercial-broker John Rash. He told the Journal, "While church-going viewers might initially embrace a drama with Jesus at the center, an edgier execution could drive them away very fast."

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