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Saturday, January 14, 2006

General Electric Versus Grass Roots 

Happened to catch this story, which originated at the Nashville Tennessean:

WSMV-Channel 4 pulled the new NBC show The Book of Daniel after the network rejected a Channel 4 request to air it overnight instead of during "family viewing time," WSMV General Manager Elden Hale Jr. said yesterday.

Hale said he made the decision after receiving "thousands" of complaints about the show, which features a pill-popping Episcopal priest with a gay son, a pot-dealing daughter and a philandering bishop father. Viewers objected to it all, Hale said.

"They didn't like the priest saying, 'G..dā€¦ him.' They didn't like the fact that there was a 15-year-old girl having sex in the back seat of a car. Many of them didn't like the portrayal of Jesus," Hale said....

WSMV's general voice mailbox shut down within 20 hours of the airing of the two-hour premiere last Friday because 137 complaint messages jammed the machine, WSMV officials said. There also were complaints via e-mail and regular mail, including letters bearing church letterheads.

Church letterheads? Ah, so does that mean that the organized baby seal clubbers - Wildmon, Falwell, Dobson, et al - organized a letter writing campaign? Doesn't look like it.

Channel 4 received no official complaint from local Episcopal churches or from organized protests, Hale said, adding that it was the quality, not the volume, of the complaints that impressed him.

"Over the years, other shows have generated as much or more reaction, but this wasn't a cut-and-paste reaction where a national group says, 'Please send an e-mail to your station' and every e-mail is the same," Hale said. "These were individually crafted, considered, well-thought, well-reasoned e-mails and phone calls."

Plus, Wildmon et al probably aren't too worried about a weirdo Episcopal show. They think that all Episcopalians are like that anyway.

The TV station staff even suggested a compromise, but according to them, NBC wouldn't budge:

Hale said he never before had rejected any network programming and that he wanted to offer the show in an overnight time slot for viewers who wanted to tape or digitally record it, but he said NBC would not agree to that.

So what was the reaction of the NBC television network?

"The Book of Daniel is a quality fictional drama about an Episcopalian priest's family and the contemporary issues with which they must grapple. We're confident that our viewers can appreciate this creative depiction of one American family and will understand it to be an entertaining work of fiction."

In other words, you are supposed to like this show and we will educate you so that you do like this show. Granted, every network (and every advertiser) wants you to watch their shows, but it's (not) surprising that the network refuses to acknowledge that some people will like this show, and some will not.

Of course, I would completely support the FOX network if they issued the following statement in advance of today's football game in Seattle.

"The Redskins-Seahawks NFL playoff game is a quality show about the human drama of athletic competition (yeah, we looted ABC for that one), and the destiny of two storied National Football League teams and the contemporary opposing formations with which they must grapple. We're confident that our viewers can appreciate this creative depiction of two American teams and will understand it to be an entertaining work of art."

But, some would argue, despite the hundreds (or more) of complaints, there were a lot of people who liked the show.

Despite its third-place finish nationally, the show won its time slots last Friday in the Nashville TV market.

Hale attributes that to the pre-show hype and to Nashville's being a particularly religiously sensitive city. He said he was convinced that ratings would have dropped significantly in the following weeks if the show had stayed on the air.

"It would have rated very poorly. But that's not the reason we chose not to air it," Hale said. "We chose not to air it because we did not think it was appropriate for broadcast television in Nashville and Middle Tennessee. Our viewers told us."

The proof is in the pudding.

WSMV joins a short list of seven NBC affiliates, most of them in the South, that have decided not to air The Book of Daniel. In three of those markets ā€” Little Rock, Ark., Amarillo, Tex., and Terre Haute, Ind. ā€” non-NBC stations have agreed to air The Book of Daniel. It isn't clear if NBC is shopping it to another Nashville station.

Let's watch Little Rock, Amarillo, and Terre Haute and see how The Book of Daniel performs. Here's a little more from Little Rock:

The show's portrayal of Christianity has been drawing criticism from religious groups, even before the show's first airing. Last month, the conservative American Family Assn. began a campaign aimed at both network affiliates and show advertisers to withdraw from the show before it begins....

KARK-TV in Little Rock, Ark., said due to viewer emails and phone calls, it is choosing to pre-empt tonight's episodes. Little Rock will be able to watch the show, though, as the area's WB affiliate, KWBF-TV, has chosen to air "Daniel" for its viewers.

The same article (from bellaonline.com) also contains this mystifying quote from an NBC flack:

The network is also standing by the series, so far, while also cautioning people not to judge the show merely on the basis of promotions for the show.

"People are reacting based on not having seen it," said Vivi Zigler, executive vp current programming at NBC Entertainment. "They're seeing the advertising, not seeing what the core of the show is."

The ads, airing on the network, show several scenes that could be helping to stir the controversy, including one where Daniel is popping Vicodin in a car while talking to Jesus.

Vivi Zigler, you may want to re-check your notes. The promotions and advertising were authored by NBC. And now an NBC flack is complaining that we shouldn't pay attention to the promotions and advertising?

Meanwhile, things are getting ugly in Little Rock:

A television station in Little Rock has increased security after receiving threats over its decision to run the NBC series "The Book of Daniel".

Guards are now posted at the studios.

Little Rock's NBC affiliate refused to air the show's premiere Friday after pressure from the American Family Association and area pastors. WB42, a WB affiliate then agreed to run the series....

Threats to the station began pouring in shortly after it made the announcement. They continued after the show aired a spokesperson for the station told 365Gay.com

Station spokesperson Gary Robbins defends the decision to run the series and says despite the threats there are no plans to cancel it.

"We've had hate mail, we've had hate phone calls... but there's no profanity in this show, there's no indecency, there's no nudity," he said.

Of course, the AFA and everyone else may be proven wrong, and America (including the heartland) may love The Book of Daniel. In which case, remember that in TV, success breeds copycat actions:
  • The Book of Amos, about an African American Methodist Episcopal pastor with a son who is a Crip, a daughter who is a ho, and a wife who wants to start a cookie company. In the first episode, the son kills four innocent people, resulting in a Nobel Peace Prize nomination.

  • The Book of Joel, about a Texas megapastor with an out of control wife. In the first episode, Mrs. Joel hijacks a plane to Cuba, then denies that the FBI filed a report on her actions.

  • The Book of Pat. Wait a minute, this one's already on the air.

From the Ontario Empoblog (Latest OVVA news here)

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