After decades of slim pickings for faith-based programming, Hollywood and cable channels are turning back to biblical and religious themes, and, notably, big audiences.
From a new six-hour “Jesus of Nazareth” to the History Channel's 10-hour epic "The Bible" and GSN’s popular “The American Bible Challenge” – not to mention Amish, Jewish, and Mormon-themed scripted and unscripted shows – the TV landscape is suffused with heavenly programming.
Add a gaggle of Bible-based feature films headed to the local cineplexes in the near future, and it’s pretty clear that Hollywood has gone and got religion in a pretty serious way, say industry insiders as well as media and religion experts.
This is both a shift from recent trends and a return to earlier days in Tinseltown. Hollywood certainly had a history of biblical epics stretching for decades, from Cecil B. DeMille's “The Ten Commandments" (1923) to Franco Zefferelli’s “Jesus of Nazareth” (1977). But religion had fallen out of fashion in more recent decades, especially on broadcast television. Now it's back, primarily on cable, as well as in film.
The industry has become increasingly vocal in support of progressive causes, says Ben Bogardus, journalism professor at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn. This has led to an "echo chamber” in which the teams in the writer’s rooms for popular sitcoms and dramas only hear their own views reinforced by like-minded colleagues.
With writers wanting to push the envelope on progressive issues and seeing religious groups as tending to oppose such ideas, he says, what developed was a “very insular attitude about religion in many parts of the entertainment industry.”