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GIMME THAT OLD-TIME TELEVISION, PART I
In these video '80s, it should come as no surprise that God has his own channel, CBN Cable, owned by the Christian Broadcasting Network. It is an odd bit of Brigadoon on the small screen, a mix of evangelism and wholesome old TV.
CBN is run by Pat Robertson, the "host" for 21 years of the syndicated 700 Club, a Tonight show of religion. Backed by a rather unethnic black man, Ben Kinchlow, Robertson preaches against evil and raises money. He shakes his head when a viewer asks about her mixed-religion marriage. "You shouldn't have done it," he says. He urges viewers to lobby for prayer in school to thwart "educators and so-called liberals" infiltrating the nation with their "communist, Marxist, humanist" bent. And on rock music: "The excrement of the world is being put in the minds of our young people." Liberal, Pat isn't.
Robertson and company run more telethons than Jerry Lewis and PBS combined, urging people to join the 700 Club and, with a few extra donations, the 1000 Club or the 2500 Club. (Put dollar signs in front of the numbers to calculate the annual dues.) They also run filmed testimonials from people who have given. One says that after he joined Pat's club, he just happened to get money for his business and could afford to buy two fancy cars, two nice homes and a plane. Pat and Ben also pray for club members and later report on cures. No complaint is too small. They have prayed even for athlete's foot.
But unlike a skid-row mission, CBN doesn't make you listen to the sermon to get the meal. Without watching Pat, you're still free to feast on old-time TV. This, it seems, is what Robertson and company believe TV should be—not flesh but Flipper, not sex but The Cisco Kid. There are old family dramas, old sitcoms and newer game shows: Bullseye—with old sitcom stars from Jerry ("The Beav") Mathers to Tina (Gilligan's Island) Louise—and Let's Make a Deal. A network with Wink Martindale, Monty Hall and Jim Lange. Now that's quality TV.
Like any other network, CBN has news shows—seven very quick updates between shows in the afternoons and evenings. It has movies—all wholesome, most old, some wonderful. It has a slogan: "The Family Entertainer." And it has commercials, lots of them. CBN is a success. The network, which is available to 23 million cable homes, expects to sell a reported $40 million in advertisements this year. And as of last March, according to Nielsen's ratings, eight of CBN's old-time shows ranked among cable's top 15 shows in viewership.
This week, we'll take a look at the wholesome shows, new and old, offered by CBN. Next week, we'll review the wealth (if that's the word for it) of old sitcoms on not only CBN but another cable net as well.
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