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Advertisers getting attention after ABC priest drama airs

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)??TV advertisers were in focus after ABC, the network subsidiary of The Disney Company, aired “Nothing Sacred” ?? a drama about a priest much ballyhooed by ABC and the secular media and much criticized by cultural conservatives.
A list of 14 companies was posted by the American Family Association at its afa.net site on the Internet’s World Wide Web after the show’s Sept. 18 debut. The AFA, one of the first organizations to call for a Disney boycott in 1995, regularly urges concerned viewers to write to sponsors of TV programs that defame Christians or proffer sex, violence and profanity, urging the companies to pull their advertising.
Focus on the Family also is urging viewer protests to Nothing Sacred’s advertisers.
“Write and let them know how you feel about this, because that has an impact,” said Focus founder James Dobson on the Aug. 27 broadcast in which he announced Focus was joining the Disney boycott that had been joined by the Southern Baptist Convention last June.
Tom Minnery, Focus’ vice president of public policy, added on the broadcast, “The most precious product of any large consumer business is its good name, and it will do everything to avoid being associated with controversy.” And, according to an AFA news release, “Moral outrage expressed properly can often be the most motivating force in policy issues such as this. The insidious denigration of religion and its valuable contribution to our society should not be tolerated.”
AFA also has urged viewers to voice concern to local ABC affiliates. Affiliates can be identified via the Internet at http://www.abc.com/localstations. Most have sites on the World Wide Web as well as e?mail addresses.
Concerns about Disney’s moral direction and Nothing Sacred and statements of commitment to the boycott also can be sent to Michael Eisner, c/o The Disney Company, 500 S. Buena Vista St., Burbank, CA 91521.
Nothing Sacred in many quarters had been called a sitcom but actually is a one?hour drama, with doses of religion?related humor and other content decried by cultural conservatives.
The show’s lead character, “Father Ray,” given an opportunity to give pro?life counsel in the confessional to a young woman considering an abortion, for example, fails to do so.
“You’re an adult, with your own conscience,” Father Ray tells the young woman. “I can’t tell you what to do. I can only tell you what the church teaches … (or) if you want, what I think.” The camera shots shift to the woman’s side of the confessional, where she is holding a tape recorder. “What are you saying, father? That my conscience is more important than what the church teaches?” It is apparent what Father Ray’s answer is, when a copy of the tape is sent to the bishop and the priest is called to give account. His response to the bishop, “I can’t say things I don’t believe,” prompts only a warning that Father Ray could be asked to leave his vocation and that he should be careful.
According to the AFA, national advertisers on the program, with their products in parenthesis, were Alberto?Culver Company (Molly McButter, Mrs. Dash salt?free seasoning, VO 5 hair products); Bayer Corporation (Alka?Seltzer, Bayer aspirin, One?A?Day vitamins, Phillips’ Milk of Magnesia, Aleve pain medication); Benckiser Consumer Products Inc. (Calgon bath products, Electrosol detergent); Burlington Coat Factory Warehouse Corp.; Darden Restaurants (Olive Garden, Red Lobster); Glaxo Wellcome Inc. (Zantac 75 acid controller); H.J. Heinz Company (Heinz food products, Nine Lives cat food, Ore?Ida potato products, Weight Watchers foods and classes); Itochu Int’l Inc. (Isuzu automobiles); Kmart Corporation; News America Publishing, Inc. (TV Guide, Fox Broadcasting, 20th Century Fox films); Reynolds Metals Company (Reynolds aluminum foil); Procter & Gamble (Bold detergent, Downy fabric softener, Jif peanut butter, Sunny Delight drink); Unilever United States Inc., Aim & Mentadent, Suave hair?care products, Wisk cleaner); and Visa U.S.A. Inc. (VISA credit & debit cards, travelers cheques).
According to the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, which has been promoting a Disney boycott since Disney subsidiary Miramax released the 1995 film, “Priest,” other sponsors of Nothing Sacred included Helene?Curtis, Sears, DuPont, AT&T, Scott’s Liquid Gold and Cadillac.
Also of note regarding Nothing Sacred: American Airlines, via a frequent?flyer promotion, even weighed in on behalf of Nothing Sacred and six other new shows on ABC.
Viewers could earn 50 “AAdvantage” miles for each correct answer to seven questions, one about each show. “Answer all seven correctly, and you’ll earn 350 miles ?? just for watching ABC!” the American Airlines promotion stated.
The Catholic League released a list of 27 organizations Sept. 19 it said will be boycotting Nothing Sacred’s sponsors. And on Sept. 16, the Catholic League announced it was sending signatures from 500,000 people to Disney chairman Michael Eisner asking that Nothing Sacred be dropped.
“Parishes signed the petition, as did groups of priests, nuns and religious,” said William Donohue, Catholic League president. “Without solicitation, Protestant churches made the petition available, and Jews and Muslims also supported the drive.
“Everyone knows that more is at stake than just a show that pushes the envelope against Catholics,” Donohue said.
“To think that so many Americans signed this petition in the matter of just a few short weeks is encouraging,” he said. “What this signals is that the league’s next step, a boycott of the show’s sponsors, will be a success.” (“Priest,” which first stirred the Catholic League to action, was released five days after Good Friday in 1995, depicting five priests, each “a thoroughly tortured individual,” the Catholic League publication Catalyst noted, citing film critic Michael Medved’s description of “Priest” as arguably the most anti?Catholic film ever made.)
Apart from concerns of cultural conservatives, Nothing Sacred faces a bigger challenge due to its time slot ?? opposite NBC’s top?10 “Friends” and another religious drama, “Promised Land,” on CBS.
From cultural conservatives, concerns abound:
Nothing Sacred “takes religion to the liberal woodshed and ridicules Christianity like no other prime?time drama has ever done,” the AFA said, for example.
“The Hollywood moguls who do these kind of things would not do this to any other minority,” Dobson said on his Aug. 27 broadcast. “Only Christians. Only those that hold to some kind of traditional Judeo? Christian belief could have this done to them.”
Citing a scene from Nothing Sacred in which Father Ray and several other priests are depicted as sitting around a table, drinking, smoking and playing poker, Dobson asked, “Can you imagine Native Americans in that role? Or Jewish people in that role? Or Asians … or blacks in that role … or Hispanics … or any other group identified any other way? Homosexuals in that role? Can you imagine it?
“Only Christians, because there’s a motive behind this,” Dobson said.
“And you certainly don’t have to be Catholic being offended by this show,” added Focus staff member Caia M. Hoskins on the broadcast. “This show is just insult after insult after insult to anybody who proclaims the name of Christ, whether you’re Catholic or Protestant.”
Secular TV critics, however, devoted little attention to the show’s handling of moral issues raised by cultural conservatives.
Washington Post TV critic Tom Shales called Nothing Sacred “probably” the season’s best new drama.” The first sentence of his review: “‘Nothing Sacred,’ its title notwithstanding, is nothing sacrilegious.”
New York Times critic Caryn James wrote that Nothing Sacred rises above other network shows on religion “by the thoughtfulness of its writing, its ambiguity, its refusal to preach. Though the series offers a complex study of faith in the real world, its great strength is that it works as engaging human drama, apart from religious concerns.”
James commented that CBS’ “Touched by an Angel” and “Promised Land,” by comparison, “hammer away at the reassuring notion that God will help those who help themselves. They are tailored to an era of 12? step programs and self?help gurus. At the other extreme are glib sitcoms like ‘Soul Man’ (ABC) and ‘Good News’ (United Paramount Network, UPN), based on the apparently stunning idea that clergymen are people too.”
Ted Baehr, chief executive officer of the Christian Film and Television Commission, in a review of Nothing Sacred, noted: “In the Golden Age, when the ‘Bells of St. Mary’ rang out, it was a given that you would never mock anyone’s religion or portray a spiritual authority in a derogatory, negative or demeaning manor. This Motion Picture Association guideline for movies came out of a sensitivity to what had happened in Nazi Germany, wherein one of the first steps taken by the National Socialists towards the Holocaust was the public media ridicule of Jewish spiritual authorities. This guideline did not mean that there were not authorities who were fallen, mistaken, foolish or corrupt, but it did insist that faith is such a delicate matter and so open to ridicule, bigotry, offense and backlash that it should be treated with the utmost respect.”
If such a guideline had been applied today to Nothing Sacred, Baehr wrote, “it would have been a much better program and less likely to arouse the ire of concerned Roman Catholics.”
Disney/ABC, in its own description of “Nothing Sacred,” had enthused:
“It’s tough being a priest in the ’90s. Just ask Father Ray. In one morning alone, he’s nearly been fired for advising a pregnant teenager to follow her own instincts. He’s had to turn down a bribe in the confessional, even though he’s desperate for money to keep his church afloat. His college flame has just walked back into his life and re?ignited old passions. And now his mentor is asking him to deliver a sermon proving the existence of God. How should he know if God exists? … he hasn’t even finished the book yet!”
ABC called the lead character “one of the most accessible and loving priests around. He’s been cursed with the God?given gift for touching people’s souls. If only Ray could find God to sooth his soul.”
Since early 1995, when the AFA and Catholic League initiated their respective Disney boycotts, the movement has grown to include the SBC, the Assemblies of God, Focus on the Family, Charles Colson of Prison Fellowship, Concerned Women for America, the Presbyterian Church in America, the Free Will Baptists and others. Expressing concern, but stopping short of a boycott, have been the Church of the Nazarene and the United Methodist Church’s Board of Pension and Health Benefits.
On other Disney fronts:
?? The Disney Company released its most extensive statement yet ?? 177 words ?? on the boycott it faces after Focus on the Family joined the effort Aug. 27.
Disney’s four?paragraph statement:
“While we respect the Southern Baptists’ and Focus on the Family’s right to protest what they feel is in conflict with their beliefs, we also feel strongly that their attacks on us are inappropriate.
“Disney is the world’s leading family entertainment company and the positive impact its excellent products ?? from ‘Hercules’ to The Disney Channel, from ‘Beauty and the Beast’ on Broadway, to Disneyland and to the new Disney Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World ?? have upon millions and millions of people around the world is well known.
“We will continue to do the best we can. In the atmosphere of free expression, we will always try to promote moral ideologies in our programming. And we will remain committed to certain values in our everyday life, values that include tolerance and compassion and respect for everybody.
“We hope that the good we do will continue to exceed any objections people may have to our offerings along the way, and we hope we can continue to coexist in a world where we can be patient with one another.”
?? Of ABC?TV’s coverage of Mother Teresa’s death, the Catholic League complained that anchor Peter Jennings’ permitted an anti?Catholic writer, Christopher Hitchens, “to bash Mother Teresa” ?? and for Jennings to allow Hitchens to “continue his diatribe during Holy Communion was particularly offensive.” Catholic League President Donohue stated, “Inviting the embittered Christopher Hitchens to comment on Mother Teresa would be like inviting an educated David Duke to comment on Martin Luther King. Hitchens is a notorious critic of Catholicism and ABC was certainly well aware of this fact when they invited him. He is also the author of a slim book on Mother Teresa, ‘The Missionary Position,’ a volume that is most noted for its absence of any citations and its hate?filled commentary. … Princess Diana had many detractors, yet none surfaced on TV. Mother Teresa had one person who hated her and the Disney?owned network found room for him to vent.”
?? The Disney Company “is again demonstrating its bold support for pro?homosexual causes by underwriting a fund?raiser to benefit the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF),” the AFA has charged, citing a Sept. 8 NGLTF press release naming Disney as one of the “corporate giants … throwing major financial support behind the efforts of NGLTF.” AFA quoted from the NGLTF’s Internet home page where the self?described “activist organization” said it is “committing more resources than ever” to fighting the “Religious Right.”