Video: Hollywood gets religion

By Brian Williams Anchor & “Nightly News” managing editor
NBC News
updated 3/21/2005 7:49:26 PM ET 2005-03-22T00:49:26

Hollywood, with all its star power and influence, is a decidedly secular place.

After all, it was hardly religious fellowship that lured Dean Batali, co-executive producer and writer for the popular sitcom "That '70s Show," to these boulevards.

"Hollywood just doesn't get it yet," says Batali. "I still am considered somewhat of an oddity as a Christian."

But, with his success on shows like "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," he feels a renewed sense of religious responsibility.

"I think television is really influential on our culture and on children in particular," he says. "I hope that maybe I can have some influence in making it a little bit more positive."

That’s a tough task when his show's main themes are hardly rated PG.

"It's basically about sex, drugs and rock and roll," he says about "That '70s Show."

Historically Hollywood, religion out of sync
"I do think for many people in the entertainment industry, I've spoken to them, they look upon religious believers as the people who want to censor you," says Michael Medved, a radio talk show host and author of the book "Right Turns."

Historically, Hollywood and the religiously devout — the Christian community in particular — have not been in sync.

There were protests in 1988 as Martin Scorsese's "The Last Temptation of Christ" premiered and a profound distrust that led some evangelicals, like Billy Graham, to create their own world of entertainment.

But now, in small ways, that chasm is being bridged.

"Most of the people in America that are evangelical Christians you'd love to have as friends, so cut us a little slack," says Larry Poland, who works as a Christian consultant to mainstream television and film executives.

Poland is pushing his community to embrace Hollywood.

"We not only light a candle, we don't curse the darkness, nor do we curse the people who create the darkness," he says.

So, by that argument, what's going on right now is that Hollywood has found a way to do what a lot of churches and organized religions have been doing for years — take a good message, find a way to broadcast it to the people and it will find an audience.

'The Passion of the Christ' cited
Few films have captured the audience's attention quite the way Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" did.

"There was a hunger for this film, because it had been such a long time since anyone had made a serious and respectful religious picture," says Medved.

Though critics like Medved claim "The Passion" was snubbed at this year's Oscars, the religious community has celebrated the film's success with its own recognition, like the Epiphany Awards.

"The Oscars and the praise of men may never come your way, but do not forget that God has rewards that he'll hand out some day," said the actor who played Jesus Christ in "The Passion," Jim Caviezel, at the Epiphany Awards in Febuary.

More importantly, "The Passion" earned record box-office numbers.

From the grand cinema to the small screen, a new medium is being forged.

"And that's what it is in Hollywood," says Batali. "Getting me to the table, it gets me now a chance to say, 'Here's a show I'd like to do. Here are some stories I'd like to tell.'"

They are stories guided by faith, in a place that normally runs on money.

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