Michael Higgins asks that important question in this perceptive Toronto Star column. He begins:
or more specifically, faith and spirituality, don’t sell on television
the same way sex and murder do. The recent U.S. election was largely
fought on the cultural values issue, and one of the longstanding issues
for U.S. voters is the no-holds-barred approach to network programming
and scheduling. The election debates revealed great concern over the
general fare of American TV, yet the ratings demonstrate a wide popular
acceptance of, if not craving for, the most sexual, violent, lowbrow
As the television
executives struggle to satisfy the needs of the "religious
demographic," they have to respond to the market in the best way they
know how. The result is arrant silliness. In November in The New York Times,
Bill Carter concluded: "It is possible that some secondary characters
on new television shows will exhibit strong religious beliefs, and an
occasional plotline may examine the impact of faith on some characters’
But with Desperate Housewives and CSI
leading the ratings, TV shows are far more likely to keep pumping from
the deep well of murder, mayhem and sexual transgression than to seek
diversion along the straight and narrow. Talk about trivialization.
The failure of many, if not most, of the commercial and public
broadcasting networks to incorporate religious themes and ideas into
their programming has led to a proliferation of faith-based channels
keen on either replacing or supplementing the national TV diet.
Word Television Network, Vision TV, CTS, Salt + Light Television, are
just a few undertakings hellbent (pardon the expression) on providing a
sane alternative to the coverage or portrayal of religious issues on
And who can blame them when you consider the
embarrassing caricatures, dull-witted commentary, and blatant animus
that too often define "secular" treatment of religion in the mainstream
media. The danger lies, of course, in identifying religion as a niche subject, akin to golf or horror movies.
Exactly correct. Religion is treated as a niche subject in mainstream media and it is not. It is, as Higgins goes on to point out, the prime determiner of human meaning. It should be as big a part of the entertainment industry’s output as it is a part of people’s everyday lives. Read the rest of the article for an example of a show from BBC that pulls it off.