A thousand apologies to the people who showed up to my scheduled speech on religion in Orange County this Saturday before the Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, Orange County chapter. Just half an hour before my 2 p.m. start, a blinding tooth ache forced me to visit the emergency room at Kaiser Permanente's Irvine branch. They gave me Vicodin, and isn't the world so groooooooooooooovy? AU-OC head Stephanie Campbell will have me back sometime next year, so stay tuned.
As an apology of sorts, I print below the heartfelt letter by a reader regarding the experience she and a Christian friend had with the Trinity Broadcasting Network. Lengthy, but worth the read, with certain names changed to protect the identity of the disappointed guy:
Hi Gustavo, re: your talk about religious wackos. thought I'd share story this with you. I sometimes arrange broadcast and sponsorships for events and was asked to do so by a friend of mine for a Christian music festival he was producing couple of years ago. The friend is a record producer with a wall of gold records (mostly hip-hop, r&b, black music) and I know him through the music industry. The part of his life I wasn't close to was his church activities and I approached arranging the broadcast for his festival in the same way I would for any other secular concert and not in any special "christian" way.
I don't watch TBN or any of that kind of televangelist shows so had made assumptions that it ran the same way secular tv does. When I have seen preachers on the shows (fleeting glances while channel switching), I thought the shows were picked for their production value, popularity, professionalism, and generally for the same reasons that shows get on any secular broadcast schedule...
My client/friend is a known quantity in the entertainment biz and has worked with some of the most famous people in the world...and was putting together a show which regular broadcasters would jump at if secular and we had commercial sponsors lined up pending the broadcast situation. However, even though the level of the show was first rate, since it was going to be very religious, it would not be appropriate for regular broadcast but perfect for a TBN audience.
I pitched TBN on the project and was completely shocked to find out that all those Sunday Morning preachers don't get paid -- they pay for the air time. they are like infomercials. The criteria for the schedule isn't how good a show/service they put on. It's how much they are willing to pay for the air-time. (which explains why they spend so much time desperately begging for money).
TBN told me they NEVER pay for production or licensing/syndication fees for a show. I convinced them that this show was worthy and would increase their youth and ethnic demographic and we could work out some rights that would benefit all parties. I really didn't care about them paying us because we were going to get a bunch of commercial sponsorship if we got it broadcast but I didn't have any budget to film the show or buy air time. So they agreed to a meeting.
My producer friend, who is a firm religious believer and totally thought that all of the TBN shows were scheduled as a voice of God, as something done because TBN was just as religiously committed to God as he is. And as I said, I at least had held always thought that the shows were chosen for upright reasons like professional and popularity considerations.
When I made the appointment, the development exec said Mrs Crouch wasn't going to be there although she had signed off on doing the show. She couldn't be there because, he said, that she was either in her Aspen house or her Paris house, or one of their island resort -- he wasn't sure. I told him I had looked their website (because I like to know where I'm going) and that the pictures reminded me of Hollywood's Forest Lawn. He laughed and said "Forest Lawn on steroids. Forest Lawn gone Disney" -- His words--
Driving down to OC, to TBN, was awkward. I tried to not let on to my friend -- (on the one hand he's a hipster hip-hop guy and the other hand, he's this devoted religious man so I didn't want to burst his bubble about things that were so important to him) that this whole set-up was the most mercenary situation I'd ever encountered. -- I've worked in Hollywood a long
time and I've never encountered anybody as greedy as TBN.
When we got there, I understood what Forest Lawn gone Disney meant. Only it was more Forest Lawn gone Dollywood. Forest Lawn gone Graceland. The whole damn place is painted gold. It's incredible. Nothing in Dubai or Sadaam's palaces that I've seen pictures of, was as gaudy and over the top. The ceiling, which was supposed to be like the Sistine chappel dome was painted in garish portraits of people who gave money to the Crouche
Even my friend was shocked. I couldn't shield him from the look of the building. He was beginning to "get" it.
Before we started the meeting with the show development exec, we were ushered into a private showing of a environmentally enclosed walk through Jesus's life -- something between a Disney ride and the cheesy Wax Museum walk. Our guide was a Stepford like church lady who seemed to think she was really in the garden of Gethsemene walking with Jesus.
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Then we walked through the building on the way to the meeting. almost every inch was filed with very, very, expensive art, some of it actually tasteful, but clearly, expensive. There were gold fixtures everywhere. Furniture that was custom made -- this was all for internal use. And pictures of the Crouches everywhere.
The meeting itself was interesting -- It was not unlike an ordinary production meeting -- but what stuck me was that there was absolutely nothing religious about their motives -- nothwhatsoever about Jesus or God -- it was ALL ABOUT THE MONEY. And the production team didn't even seem to have any great religious motives and were clearly bored and even smirked when my friend talked about religion -- which was his entire motivation for
the concert. Other staff we met seemed to mirror that -- Other than the guide through the Jesus walk, they seemed to think it was a big joke. and were somewhat embsrassed by the whole hypocritical lifestyle of the Crouches and their seven luxury homes.
When I brought my friend in to the room to meet the show execs, he still thought that it was about religion and thinking that he should present his Jesus bonefides, proudly launched into a story about how he had [huge rap stars] all down on their knees praying.
What he didn't catch is the execs giving each other the rolled eyes -- they couldn't give a hoot -- the bonefides they were about were the gold records I'd pitched. And he just had no idea.