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WTWO makes news -- refuses to carry 'Daniel'

Friday, January 6, 2006

WTWO-TV, Terre Haute, is making national headlines for its management's decision to not carry a controversial TV show scheduled Friday night.

WTWO is one of just two NBC affiliates in the nation to refuse to carry "The Book of Daniel," a drama about an Episcopal minister with a dysfunctional family. The other affiliate is KARK in Little Rock, Ark. However, the WB affiliate in Little Rock will air the station instead.

According to pre-broadcast publicity, the minister pops pills, his wife is an alcoholic, his son is a homosexual and his daughter sells drugs illegally. To top it off, an actor plays the part of Jesus, seen sitting in the car with the minister and involved in other scenes.

WTWO and a station in Arkansas have chosen to pre-empt the show.

WTWO Station General Manager Duane Lammers issued a statement regarding his decision: "Our relationship with NBC always provided for the right to reject programming. I am reaffirming that right to let them know I will not allow them to make unilateral decisions affecting our viewers.

"Second, I want to draw attention to the worst offenders of indecency on television ... the cable industry, which faces no decency regulations, nor a license renewal.

"If my action causes people in our community to pay more attention to what they watch on television, I have accomplished my mission."

On Friday morning, WTHR-TV, the Indianapolis NBC affiliate, reported the station had received thousands of e-mails about "The Book of Daniel." However, a WTHR spokesman said the station had no desire to tell its viewers what they should or should not watch and that if viewers were offended, they would not watch the show and it would not be renewed.

Channel 13 also interviewed an Indianapolis Episcopal priest who said he hoped people would watch the show as entertainment and did not think it would reflect badly on the church.

Conservative Christian groups have condemned the depiction of Jesus as blasphemous, accusing the writers of portraying Christ as tolerant of sin in talks with the priest.

The series stars Aidan Quinn as the Rev. Daniel Webster, who discusses his many troubles in regular chats with a robe-wearing, bearded Jesus. The American Family Association, in Tupelo, Miss., and Focus on the Family, the Colorado Springs group led by James Dobson, are asking supporters to lobby their local NBC affiliate to drop the show.

In a statement Thursday, NBC said, "We're confident that once audiences view this quality drama themselves, they'll appreciate this thought-provoking examination of one American family."

But the American Family Association said the series was another sign of NBC's "anti-Christian bigotry." Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, an anti-defamation group, called the series the "work of an embittered ex-Catholic homosexual."

The show's creator and executive producer, Jack Kenny, said he drew on the emotionally guarded family of his male partner for the series. He said his goal was to depict how "humor and grace" help a flawed man struggle with his faith and family. He said the writers never meant to mock religion or Jesus.

However, Bob Waliszewski, of Focus on the Family's teen ministries, said the show portrayed Christ as a "namby-pamby frat boy who basically winks at every sin and perversity under the sun."

"When the pastor's teen son is sexually active and having many romps with his 15-year-old girlfriend, this Jesus says, 'A kid has to be a kid,"' Waliszewski said. "I don't think NBC would have portrayed a Muslim cleric or a Buddhist monk, the Dalai Lama, in a show this way. Why? Because they know to do so would be mean-spirited and insensitive."

James Naughton, a spokesman for the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, D.C., said a California Episcopal church is advising the series.

Naughton has read scripts for eight episodes and acknowledged that viewers could take away a troubling message about people of faith, instead of a positive one about overcoming temptation. Still, he said it was "a tremendous opportunity for evangelism for Episcopalians." The Washington Diocese has started a blog to comment on the show and invite discussion.

"To me, this is good for us no matter how it comes out because if people are talking about what Episcopalians are like, it creates tremendous opportunities for us to say, 'Here's what we actually are like,"' Naughton said.

AP Religion Writer Rachel Zoll contributed to this report.

On the Net:

American Family Association: http://www.afa.net/

Episcopal Diocese of Washington blog: http://blog.edow.org/weblog/

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