Thursday, October 12, 2006

A Tale of Two Veggies.

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 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 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 - 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 & 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 still 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
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