NBC in late January cancelled – after just four episodes – its new prime-time U.S. television series, The Book of Daniel, a show that that featured an Episcopal (Anglican) priest with family problems who had conversations with Jesus. The show (which premiered Jan. 6 and was reviewed in last month’s Anglican Journal) received low ratings, good-to-mixed reviews and protests from conservative religious groups. The Globe and Mail’s television critic, Andrew Ryan, wrote (a few days before the cancellation) that the show “is probably the closest that network TV has ever come to producing an adult, cable-quality drama. It’s a shame the truly pious don’t understand it.” He added that complaints would likely continue, “right up until NBC folds the show, which will be a sad day.” Protests, from such groups as the American Family Association, focused on the myriad bad habits of the principal characters – drinking, pill-popping, thievery – and said it mocked Christianity. NBC said it received 678,000 angry e-mails from family association supporters, prompting advertisers to pull out and several NBC affiliates to refuse to run the show. Ed Vitagliano, an official with the AFA, criticized the title character of Daniel, the priest. “I don’t know anybody this dysfunctional in my over 20 years in the ministry,” he told the Los Angeles Times. He noted that the series was “not a realistic portrayal of a minister’s life. This was so far beyond the pale, it was almost a comic strip version.” The series featured actor Aidan Quinn as Rev. Daniel Webster, who sought advice from Jesus on his sometimes troubled marriage and his rocky relationship with his three children – one gay, one sexually promiscuous and one dealing with drugs. Addiction was a problem in the Webster household with the priest himself apparently dependent on pain-killers, while his wife “really likes her martinis,” as one Texas television critic wrote. Facing criticism after the first broadcasts, series creator Jack Kenny defended the show explaining, “Most everyone seems to understand that this is not any kind of attack or mocking of Christianity, but rather simply a fictional story in which the characters happen to be Christians.” As controversy grew, Mr. Kenny tried to rally support, pleading with fans to lobby the network and calling the “bullies” who sought to kill his show “un-Christian and un-American.” But the series never established a substantial audience base.
With files from ENI.