Cable television has been featuring religious themed shows for a while, but the long-standing con-cern among producers that religion is too controversial is giving way to a recognition that viewers enjoy learning about the history and role of faith in peoples’ lives.
The Hollywood Reporter (March 22) notes several series on cable television that are drawing high ratings, particularly the mini-series, “The Bible” on the History Channel and Lifetime’s reality show “Preachers’ Daughters,” which showed a 13 percent in-crease in viewers (1.7 million) from the first to the second episodes, not to mention the several popular shows on the Amish and Mennonite lifestyle.
Some producers see such programming as inspirational in nature, while others recognize the value of controversy in their productions. Such is the case with Showtime’s upcoming thriller series, “The Vatican,” which “incorporates spirituality, power and politics … set against the modern-day political machinations within the Catholic Church,” writes Kimberly Nordyke.
There was a concern that such shows might generate too much controversy among the faithful, but “what people are discovering is that viewers can distinguish entertainment from real life. Religion is of great interest to everyone, and a key driver of political and personal life worldwide. Maybe the curse came off it somehow that people would stay away” from religious-themed program-ming, says Paul Attanasio, the writer of “The Vatican.” It isn’t only reality and scripted programming that are using religious themes. GSN network scored a hit with its game show “The American Bible Challenge,” which tests contestants’ biblical knowledge and even spawned an online Bible study program by the network. Along with the greater willingness to broach controversial topics is a concern about not offending the faith groups that are portrayed or covered in these series, making fact checking, research and the use of consultants necessary.