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NBC Edits Christianity Out of VeggieTales, but Lets Madonna Ridicule It

James Hirsen, writing in the LA Daily News today, points out the hypocritcal approach NBC is taking to religion these days:

NBC chops ‘Veggies’ but reveres Madonna
By James L. Hirsen – LA Daily News

Two NBC television shows are receiving very different treatment.

In the first instance, NBC eliminated faith-oriented material from a well-known and highly popular animated children’s program, “VeggieTales.” In the second, the network is reportedly still contemplating whether to air a Vegas-style crucifixion act that is part of a Madonna concert that NBC plans to broadcast during the November ratings sweeps.

In other words, the peacock network is censoring one program that has positive religious content, while at the same time resisting calls to exclude derogatory religious imagery from another.

Madonna is apparently irritated with the criticism that has come down the pike about her staged scene from her “Confessions” tour. Evidently, the material girl, who often asks for respect for her own faith, Kabbalah, doesn’t understand why there would be hesitancy over the proposed TV airing of the centerpiece of her show, where she wears a crown of thorns while suspended from a large cross.

Many religious organizations, including the Roman Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church, have gone on record to let NBC know that including Madonna’s rock-mock crucifixion is unacceptable and insulting.

Meanwhile, NBC has removed religious references from “Veggie Tales,” which was recently added to its Saturday morning lineup.

Co-creator of the show Phil Vischer has written, “I’m not at all happy with the edits. I didn’t know I’d need to make them when I agreed to produce the show, and I considered dropping out when I found out just how much would need to be removed.”

Vischer told the Los Angeles Times, “When the first edit notes came back, I thought, ‘This is going to be difficult because the stories were going to fall apart.’ This has implications for ‘VeggieTales’ which would have been nice to talk about in the beginning.”

Initially, the network claimed that the religious references had to be removed from the children’s show because of time concerns. But in a written statement, NBC changed its story. It indicated that the reason for the cuts was that the network did not want to be seen as backing a particular religion.

“NBC is committed to the positive messages and universal values of ‘VeggieTales,'” the statement said. “Our goal is to reach as broad an audience as possible with these positive messages, while being careful not to advocate any one religious point of view.”

Alan Wurtzel, an NBC broadcast standards executive, told The New York Times that there was no double standard at work with regard to the shows and that the network was evaluating each show separately.

“We had to make a decision about where it went further than we considered appropriate,” Wurtzel said.

Madonna also spent some time issuing explanations to the press. The singer’s statement claimed that her appearance on Christ’s cross in her concert “is no different than a person wearing a cross or ‘taking up the cross’ as it says in the Bible.”

“My performance is neither anti-Christian, sacrilegious or blasphemous. Rather, it is my plea to the audience to encourage mankind to help one another and to see the world as a unified whole,” Madonna explained, adding that she believed in her “heart that if Jesus were alive today he would be doing the same thing.”

Madonna also said that she is using sacred Christian imagery “to bring attention to the millions of children in Africa who are dying every day (or) are living without care, without medicine and without hope.”

Although NBC claims that it is still deliberating, TV Guide Magazine reported that NBC entertainment chief Kevin Reilly said Madonna’s crucifixion imitation would probably be in the show because Madonna felt strongly about it.

Liz Rosenberg, a spokeswoman for Madonna, said in an e-mail message to The New York Times that Madonna would not want this number to be censored. She predicted that Madonna “will not back down.”

If NBC does allow Madonna’s Jesus imitation to be aired while justifying the removal of faith references from “VeggieTales,” the tragic message the network will be sending is that it is fine to make reference to God on TV — but only as long as you’re making fun of him.


James Hirsen is a New York Times best-selling author, commentator, news analyst and law professor. Write to him by e-mail at hollywoodnation@gmail.com

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2 Comments

  1. With all due respect to Emily Post, I believe polite company should discuss politics and religion. In my family once we reached a certain age it was no longer acceptable to discuss the lives of the fictional characters on a television show at the dinner table. Current events were always discussed at our dinner table, and it's hard to discuss current events with out touching on politics and religion. Not everyone in my family shares the same political or religious point of view so whoever was speaking was not exactly preaching to the choir. The same can be said about TV today. It's hard to discuss television these days with out touching on politics and religion. Recently I wrote in Never Judge a Show by it’s Pilot: Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip , "My hope is that Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip becomes the next great water cooler show. Unlike other water cooler shows where people just talk about what the characters did, here we can shift the topic of conversation to the issues discussed on the show." I don't think that we can afford not to have these discussions and my patience runs thin whenever people use Emily Post's advice to hide their ignorance or apathy.

    Now I want to be respectful with my next comments towards those with opposing religious or political points of view. Recently I was watching the Saturday morning news on the local NBC affiliate. When the news was over the animated series Veggie Tales came on. I knew that the Veggie Tales were a series of Christian cartoons featuring talking vegetables. I was surprised to see this show on network TV. Within a few minutes I had to watch the show, I did not notice any religious message. I assumed that the show was altered to meet network standards and practices. I promptly forgot about the Veggie Tales broadcast until a few days later when I heard that the American Family Association accused NBC of anti-Christian bigotry. Stating in their AFA Action Alert that, "NBC: Bible Verses In Veggie Tales Offensive, But Not Madonna's Mockery Of The Crucifixion Of Christ". The Action Alert uses my favorite new show Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip to illustrate a recent pattern of anti-Christian programming on NBC. "NBC says using Bible verses or referring to God is offensive to some non-Christians. But NBC doesn't hesitate to offend Christians by showing Madonna mocking the crucifixion of Christ. Neither do not mind offending Christians in their new program Studio 60 with a segment called Crazy Christians. (Please read the review.)". The Action Alert also provided readers with a template for a letter that you can send to NBC Chairman Bob Wright.

    I fail to see how this group can compare a children's Saturday morning cartoon to a yet to be aired Madonna concert that will be on during prime time. I also don't want to pass judgement on any group or individual or group with out doing research first. I started with their review of Studio 60 written by Bill Johnson, President of the American Decency Association. I did not expect this review to be totally objective but I also did not expect it to be as slanted as it was either. I also noticed that there were factual errors and some of the comments made by characters on the show were taken out of context. The part that bothered me the most was the following statement, "One of the characters is supposedly a born-again Christian – a Christian who swears regularly and writes comedy for this fictional show that mocks Christianity. She also prays before each show and is shown praying with the cast stating:“We say this prayer in the name of your son Jesus Christ, who had to have been funny to get so many people to listen to him."" I find it inappropriate to question someone’s faith. I realize that Harriet Hayes (Sarah Paulson) is a fictional character but she is based on a real person actress Kristin Chenoweth who used to date Aaron Sorkin (Kristin Chenoweth – Celebrity News at filmsandtv.com) I am sure that the Harriet and Matt Albie (Matthew Perry) story line is greatly inspired by Sorkin’s relationship with Chenoweth. (Sault Ste. Marie Arts and Entertainment Pages on SooToday.com) As a resident of Hollywood, I know Christians like Harriet who have a sense of humor and can laugh at themselves. I think Harriet presents a more positive portrayal of Christians than Ned Flanders (The Simpsons), Bree Van De Kamp (Desperate Housewives) or Angela Martins (The Office). I do have a hunch that sometime soon (maybe November Sweeps), there will be a backlash to Crazy Christians story line.

    I then researched Veggie Tales. The creator of Veggie Tales, Phil Vischer is quoted in the Action Alert but the action alert but does not mention that he lost his company in bankruptcy and no longer controls anything about Veggie Tales. The new owners Classic Media bought Veggie Tales out of bankruptcy and formed a new company to make more Veggie Tales videos called Big Idea, Inc (The old company was Big Idea Productions, Inc.). Classic Media made the deal with NBC to do values based (not religion based) children's programming. Classic hired Vischer to create new opening and closing segments for the NBC version of the show. Big Idea says on their web site BigIdea.com – News: VeggieTales & NBC, "When we were presented with the opportunity to reach a mass television audience, we knew that certain religious references would not be allowed on a children's block under current TV network guidelines. And we recognized that we were not going to change the rules of network television overnight."

    I watched a Veggie Tales DVD (Larryboy and the Bad Apple). My fist thought was that the production values were really good, superior to most Christian programming I've seen. I know that some people involved in Christian programming agree with me in that in that the show quality of most Christian shows are bad while others feel that the production values should take a back seat to the message (The Latest Poll Results philcooke.com & Opening a New Channel to God – 7/29/2006 – Broadcasting & Cable). I can't help but wonder if the quality of Christian programming was better would groups like the AFA keep trying to instill Christian values on mainstream television programming especially shows with high ratings.

    As for the religious content in the Veggie Tales cartoon, I thought there was less of a religious message than were in the Davey and Goliath cartoons I watched as a child. The following Saturday I watched a Veggie Tales episode on NBC and I stil
    l understand why the network made the changes that they did. I think if they aired the episode without any changes there would be complaints from parents who don't want their children exposed to this particular religious point of view. Perhaps NBC might not get as many complaints as they did from the people in the "Don't change the show camp", then again they have an organization to write their letters for them. I also think that if the network aired the show unedited they would have to open with a disclaimer, "The views expressed by these talking vegetables do not necessarily express the views of the National Broadcasting Company". Ultimately I don't think the values presented in the edited version of Veggie Tales do not loose their overall impact just because they lost their Christian brand. These values are universal and are not the exclusive domain of any one ideology.

    As to the Madonna concert it is hard to comment since NBC has not decided whether to include the crucifixion scene. The Action Alert mentions that a spokeswoman for Madonna said that the singer considered the scene crucial to the performance and could withdraw the rights for NBC to televise the concert if the scene were cut. I have to ask, if NBC cuts the crucifixion scene will Madonna’s fans watch the concert? I'm sure some will and some won’t. Will AFA members watch the concert if NBC cuts the crucifixion scene? I think not, and I'm sure NBC will factor that into their decision whether or not to air the crucifixion scene.

    Finally to subject of what considered offensive by broadcasting standards. Just because some material may offend you that material may not be offensive. For example Dr. Laura Schlessinger has said things that have offended people (i.e. her homophobic comments). Howard Stern says things that are offensive (sex, sexual organs, bodily functions etc). One way or another people will be offended whether NBC airs an edited or unedited version of Veggie Tales while neither version is offensive by broadcasting standards. Airing Madonna on a cross will offend and censoring Madonna on a cross will offend others. Some people are offended some by an organization calling themselves the "American" Family Association yet they represent a specific religious point of view that is not shared by all Americans. The airwaves belong to all of us. We have to learn to play nice and share. Personally I’m most offended by thing that are stupid on TV. Where’s my support group.

    To quote former NBC Censor Ted Cordes, "We are broadcasters after all, That's a real term. We're not narrowcasters. It's a big country out there, with a lot of diverse tastes, and they don't seem to like extremes."
    After going from 'Bonanza' to 'Queer Eye,' TV censor retires
    By Los Angeles Times Feb 01, 2004

    Stay Tuned

    Tony Figueroa

  2. It should not be surprising that NBC would do this. The legacy of this network is its persistent leadership in base, immoral programming. They brought us Laugh In, and Dick Martin was proud of what the show had done to loosen up the humor. He said as much in an interview on Tonight Show. This is a programmer that constantly pushes the envelope of depravity, and has always led in it. Saturday Night Live was at least funny 30 years ago, but its not anymore. Add to that, its so cheap it runs reruns a month into the new season! Its a good thing GE has locomotives and jet engines to take its bottom line up-because NBC is taking it-and the country-down to a pit.

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