In search of its next big hit, NBC is taking a leap of faith by airing a new drama, "Book of Daniel," which deals with the life of a pastor and his family. But this is no "7th Heaven" clone, with a close-knit, loving family and a "message of the week" theme to every show.
In "Book of Daniel," Aidan Quinn (Legends of the Fall) stars as the title character, Reverend Daniel Webster, an unconventional Episcopalian minister who not only believes in Jesus - he actually sees him and discusses life with him. This may or may not be a side effect of his addiction to prescription painkillers.
Webster also has troubles at home with his three children -- Peter, his 23-year-old gay son, who struggles with the loss of his twin brother; Grace, his 16-year-old daughter who doesn't try to push her father's buttons but succeeds at it nonetheless; and Adam , his 16-year-old adopted Chinese son, a handsome and cocky high school jock with a wicked sense of humor -- his wife, and his embezzling brother-in-law. And that's just for starters.
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.
Because of that, two NBC affiliates are not airing the debut of the show tonight.
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.
WTWO-TV in Terre Haute, Ind, is also pre-empting the show, but it says it's not for religious reasons. General manager Duane Lammers said he using this as an excuse to protest multiple grievances with industry practice, especially network-affiliate relations. It will air the movie Simon Birch in the timeslot, instead.
In a statement to the press, show star Quinn said viewers should just watch the show and then judge it, not the other way around.
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.
I guess the big question is, should religious context be used as a basis for censorship of a television show? Or is this all brewing simply because the show airs on a regular broadcast network and not cable? If the show were to air on a advertiser-less network like Showtime or HBO, would it be any less shocking than say "Deadwood," with its extreme profanity and raw storylines, or "Weeds," which deals with a pot-dealing suburban mom?
I say I agree with Quinn -- watch the show and decide for yourself. If you don't like it, simply change the channel.
"Book of Daniel" airs Fridays, starting tonight, at 9pm EST on most NBC stations.
For more information on the show, please visit: www.nbc.com.