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Hollywood’s New Commandment: “Thou Shalt Produce Programs with Higher Family Values”


(LOS ANGELES) -- With the success of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ still resonating throughout Hollywood, it’s not surprising that studio heads and executives within the television and cable industries are rethinking concepts such as "faith-based,” “inspirational,” and “family values.”

“In the last five years consumer demand for motion pictures, videos and programming that depict a strong sense of moral and spiritual values has dramatically increased,” states Faith and Family Marketing expert Susan Zahn.

Zahn is the founder of WDC Media, a Christian owned public relations firm that represents several major Christian organizations including mega-broadcaster Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN), the world’s largest religious network.

In 2001, the two best-selling fiction books, Left Behind and Prayer of Jabez, were written by pastors. Stephen Prothero, author of the cultural-historical treatise, American Jesus, gives thanks to Gibson while exclaiming that “my book is selling more books then ever.” Further, Prothero is not the only one reaping a vast faith-based, family-friendly harvest.

Five-time Grammy-winning artist, Amy Grant (who recently appeared on TBN along with inspirational recording legend Bill Gaither) is the host of Three Wishes, NBC’s new inspirational reality-based-venue. Said Grant: "When I heard about this show, I was extremely moved by NBC and the production company’s concept to provide incredibly positive changes in the lives of different people

“Everyone secretly wants the chance to fulfill a lifelong wish that seems beyond their grasp -- and this show will help transform those dreams into a life-changing reality,” said Jeff Gaspin, President, NBC Universal Cable Entertainment & Cross-Platform Strategy, who made the announcement.

Moreover, Hollywood has a renewed interest in “family” films. “The family film genre is an area that has great intensity right now,” said Michael Nathanson, production president for MGM. “Recently the market has become much more recognized” (Variety).

A 1999 study commissioned by the Dove Foundation showed that of the 2,380 films given a wide U.S. release during the decade ending in 1997, G-rated films yielded the highest gross profit — $94 million on average — while R-rated films earned only $11 million on average. PG films earned about $26 million on average. G-rated family films generated eight times more gross profit than R-rated films. Not one of the 20 top-grossing feature films of all time carries an R or NC-17 rating.

“What families want is wholesome entertainment without worry,” states Pastor Grant Swank of New Hope Church. “The parents want to take their children to something that does not mean mom and dad having to protect their nervous systems from jitters and quake surprises. They just want to relax and enjoy"

One industry analyst remarked, “A studio executive seeking to reduce ‘downside risk’ and increase ‘upside possibilities’ could do so just by shifting production dollars out of R-rated movies into G, PG, and PG-13 movies” (Los Angeles Daily News).

Indeed, films like Shrek, Monsters Inc., Ice Age, and The Rookie – which together earned over $800 million at the U.S. box office – are heralding a new trend. “The studios have ramped up their family film slates for what seems like an insatiable family audience” (Variety).

Dan Brown’s highly controversial religious thriller, The Da Vinci Code, is being made into a major motion picture by Ron Howard.

The biblical story of Esther comes to vivid life this fall in One Night with the King (GeneraXion Entertainment) featuring screen legends Peter O’ Toole and Omar Shariff.

Shariff can be seen again in the upcoming ABC mini-series, The Ten Commandments, currently in production. This mini-series will not be a remake of the 1956 movie that starred Charlton Heston as Moses and featured the famous parting-of-the-Red Sea scene (now included in the Universal Studios tour).

Instead, producer Robert Halmi, Sr. and writer Ron Hutchinson (The Tuskegee Airmen) will rely on biblical and historical accounts of Moses and the exodus to tell the story. The Halmi-produced film is expected to feature a high count of special-effects shots.

“I strongly feel that this biblical tale should be revisited for the younger generation,” stated Halmi.

“It’s very encouraging that a major secular network such as ABC will be introducing a whole new generation of viewers to The Ten Commandments,” said Zahn.

In July, TBN aired the world broadcast premier of the highly acclaimed, The Gospel of John (with no commercial interruptions). “TBN’s numbers doubled for that time slot,” states Zahn. “The network received thousands of emails and letters, some of which came from first-time viewers.”

Meanwhile, it has been reported in MovieGuide magazine that the number of films with strong biblical themes has skyrocketed over the past decade.

In August 2004, a TV-Guide headline read, “APOCALYPSE NOW.” “The angel craze is over. In a time of fear and mass insecurity, dark religious themes have found an eager audience.”

“The faith-based and family-friendly consumer market has not come close to peaking,” says Zahn. "Industry experts working within this untapped niche market are anticipating a massive growth explosion as studios, networks, and filmmakers begin to explore a market ripe for harvest.”

“TBN and other Christian networks have been providing family-programming and morally-based entertainment for years now. Such productions accent the message of hope.” In other words, reports Zahn “The Faith and Family Market is alive and well.”


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