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NBC's Double Standard
September 26, 2006

By James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.
contributor to

Will Madonna's ‘Crucifixion' Get the ‘VeggieTales' Treatment?

Two NBC television shows are receiving very different treatment.

The TV network is censoring one program that has positive religious content while at the same time it is resisting calls to exclude religious imagery of a derogatory nature, which appears in another one of its slated programs.

In the first instance, NBC eliminated faith-oriented material from a well-known and highly popular animated children's program called "VeggieTales." In the second instance, the network is reportedly still contemplating whether or not to air a Vegas-style crucifixion act, which is part of a Madonna concert that NBC plans on broadcasting during the November ratings sweeps.

Madonna is apparently irritated with the criticism that has come down the pike about her staged scene from her "Confessions" tour. Evidently, the material girl, who often asks for respect for her own faith, Kabbalah, doesn't understand why there would be hesitancy over the proposed TV airing of the centerpiece of her show, where she wears a crown of thorns while suspended from a large cross.

Many religious organizations, including the Roman Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church, have gone on record to let NBC know that including Madonna's rock-mock crucifixion is unacceptable and insulting.

Meanwhile NBC has removed religious references from "VeggieTales," which was recently added to its Saturday morning lineup.

Co-creator of the show Phil Vischer wrote this on his Web site: "I'm not at all happy with the edits. I didn't know I'd need to make them when I agreed to produce the show, and I considered dropping out when I found out just how much would need to be removed."

Vischer told the Los Angeles Times, "When the first edit notes came back, I thought, 'This is going to be difficult because the stories were going to fall apart.' This has implications for 'VeggieTales,' which would have been nice to talk about in the beginning."

Initially the network claimed that the religious references had to be removed from the children's show because of time concerns. But in a written statement, NBC changed its story. It indicated that the reason for the cuts was that the network did not want to be seen as backing a particular religion.

"NBC is committed to the positive messages and universal values of 'VeggieTales,'" the statement said. "Our goal is to reach as broad an audience as possible with these positive messages, while being careful not to advocate any one religious point of view."

Alan Wurtzel, an NBC broadcast standards executive, told The New York Times that there was no double standard at work with regard to the shows and that the network was evaluating each show separately.

"We had to make a decision about where it went further than we considered appropriate." Wurtzel said.

Madonna also spent some time issuing explanations to the press. The singer's statement claimed that her appearance on Christ's cross in her concert "is no different than a person wearing a cross or 'taking up the cross' as it says in the Bible."

"My performance is neither anti-Christian, sacrilegious, or blasphemous. Rather, it is my plea to the audience to encourage mankind to help one another and to see the world as a unified whole," Madonna explained, adding that she believed in her "heart that if Jesus were alive today he would be doing the same thing."

Madonna also said that she is using sacred Christian imagery "to bring attention to the millions of children in Africa who are dying every day [or] are living without care, without medicine, and without hope."

Although NBC claims that it is still deliberating, TV Guide Magazine reported that NBC entertainment chief Kevin Reilly said that Madonna's crucifixion imitation would probably be in the show because Madonna felt strongly about it.

Liz Rosenberg, a spokeswoman for Madonna, said in an e-mail message to The New York Times that Madonna would not want this number to be censored. She predicted that Madonna "will not back down."

If NBC does allow Madonna's Jesus imitation to be aired while justifying the removal of faith references from "VeggieTales," the tragic message the network will be sending is that it is fine to depict God on TV as long as you're making fun of Him.

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James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.
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