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Faith in a Box

Entertainment Television & Religion


By Christopher Gildemeister

Executive Summary:


In a November, 2006 Zogby poll, 84% of adults stated that they are not offended by references to God or the Bible on network television shows, while 51% said that entertainment networks should develop shows with positive messages and specific references to God and the Bible. A review of current television programming reveals that on reality programming average Americans frequently demonstrate their faith in unscripted settings, but scripted drama and comedy programs continue to be out of touch with the American public, regularly portraying religion in a negative light.


In this, the seventh Parents Television Council study examining the treatment of religious content on television, an entire year of prime-time broadcast programming was analyzed. The PTC examined a total of 2,271.5 hours of programming containing 1,425 treatments of religion. 



Major findings:


  • There were half as many portrayals of religion in 2005-2006 (1,425) as in 2003-2004 (2,344).


  • In 2005-2006, there were more negative depictions of religion than positive ones (35% to 34).


  • Depictions of aspects affiliated with organized religion (clergy, doctrine or laity) were mostly negative. Negative characterizations tended to come from scripted dramatic or comedy shows. By contrast, on unscripted TV religion tended to be portrayed in a positive light.


  • Fox was by far the most anti-religious network. One in every two (49.3%) portrayals of religion on the Fox network was negative. Long-time champion NBC came in second in negative depictions of religion, with well over a third (39.3%) of such portrayals being negative. Among other networks, on UPN over a third (35.4%) of depictions of religion were also negative. ABC registered 30.4% and CBS 29% negative portrayals. The WB network featured the fewest negative depictions of religion (21%).


  • The number of negative portrayals increased steadily with each hour of prime-time. Negative treatments constituted 31.9 % of all treatments in the 8 pm hour, 33.9 % in the 9 pm hour and 44.4% in the 10 o'clock hour.


  • At no time during prime time, and on no network did the positive portrayal of religion even hit the 50% mark. 


  • Devout laity non-clerical individuals who profess religious faith were treated most negatively by entertainment programs. Over half (50.8%) of all entertainment television's depictions of laity were negative. Only 26% were positive.


  • Close behind in negative portrayal were religious institutions (such as particular denominations, specific religious beliefs or direct references to Scripture), nearly half (47.6%) of which were negative. By contrast, only 18% of depictions of religious institutions were positive.


  • Prime-time television's portrayal of clergy was also heavily weighted, with less than a third (30.4%) of depictions of and references to clergy being positive, and another two-thirds being negative or ambiguous.


  • Only in depictions of religious faith showing individuals making a simple declaration of belief in God or a higher power, or praying was television's portrayal of religion largely positive. Over two-thirds (69.6%) of such portrayals were positive, with less than one-sixth (14.7%) being negative.


  • The format of the program was a significant factor in the portrayal which religion received. A majority (57.8%) of the positive portrayals of religion were to be found on reality programs. By contrast, an overwhelming percentage (95.5%) of the negative portrayals of religion came from such Hollywood-scripted drama and comedy programs; only 4.5% of negative portrayals of religion were found on reality shows.


With most Americans professing a belief in God and a majority asking for programming which reflects that belief, it seems a foregone conclusion that television would portray religion positively. Indeed, on reality programs in which everyday Americans are shown voicing their own sentiments belief in God is openly acknowledged, and is demonstrated by prayer and behavior indicative of deeply-held faith. But on scripted television such is not the case. On broadcast TV's dramas and comedies, devout laity is overwhelmingly depicted as hypocritical, clergy as depraved and religious institutions as hopelessly corrupt. While most Americans have a healthy belief in and respect for God and religion, the same cannot be assumed of the "creative" professionals responsible for the entertainment media's scripted programming, proving their disconnection from their viewers.

Full Report | Statistical Appendix




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