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A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

I admit it -- I love Veggie Tales. When I first saw some of their videos for sale in a Christian book store about 10 years ago, I thought, "here's a loser idea." I mean, come on, who wants to watch a bunch of armless, legless vegatables preaching sermons at me? Well, it didn't take too much longer before I actually saw one, and I became hooked. While directed to kids, there's enough literary and movie references for adults that anyone can sit back and enjoy these animated works (unless, of course, they are television snobs). As a result, the Veggie Tales chain has been very successful (even if Big Idea apparently was unprepared to handle success and filed bankruptcy at one point) selling more than 50 million DVD and videotapes.

50 million DVDs and videotapes? Adding those numbers to the Veggie-related promotional products such as plush toys and books, and television naturally took notice. Thus, beginning this Fall there will be Veggie time on Saturday mornings on NBC during the children's cartoon time. Details can be found on the official Big Idea web site here. All's right with the world, right? Well . . . there seems to be this minor . . . uh, God problem.

According to "Sliced and diced 'Veggie Tales'" by L. Brent Bozell, III,

The early word from producers is that NBC has grown increasingly fierce about editing something out of "Veggie Tales" -- those apparently unacceptable, insensitive references to God and the Bible.

So NBC has taken the very essence of "Veggie Tales" -- and ripped it out. It's like "Gunsmoke" without the guns, or "Monday Night Football" without the football.

Think about this corporate mindset. NBC is the network that hired a squad of lawyers to argue that dropping the F-bomb on the Golden Globe Awards isn't indecent for children, but invoking God is wholly unacceptable. Or, as one e-mailing friend marveled: "So, saying [expletive] you' is protected First Amendment speech on NBC but not 'God bless you.'"

I suppose I should be surprised, but I'm not. After all, to think that it would be considered okay for our favorite vegetables to mention Jesus or the Bible on NBC is simply wishful thinking in today's society. Still, I have to agree with Mr. Bozell that Veggie Tales without its Biblical basis has been emasculated -- stripped of its very core. Big Idea is about bringing Sunday morning values to Saturday afternoon fun. NBC is, apparently, not interested in the values part.

Mr. Bozell continues:

This is one of those moments where you understand networks like NBC are only talking an empty talk and walking an empty walk when it comes to the First Amendment, and "creative integrity," and so on. They have told parents concerned about their smutty programs like "Will and Grace" that if they're offended, they have a remote control as an option. The networks have spent millions insisting we have a V-chip in our TV sets. Change the channel. Block it out.

But when it comes to religious programming -- that doesn't even mention Jesus Christ -- just watch the hypocrisy. Instead of telling viewers to just change the channel if they don't like it, or put in a V-chip for Bible verses, they demand to producers that all that outdated old-time religion be shredded before broadcast.

It's truly sad this anti-religious hypocrisy would emerge. Today, no one in network TV fears what the children are watching -- unless it makes them think about God.

Perhaps the most apt comment comes from Phil Vischer, the creator of Veggie Tales, in his blog entry entitled "It's Showtime for Veggie Tales" where he discusses the demand by NBC to strip Veggie Tales of its Christian content and his decision to proceed with airing the show anyway:

By the way, last week it was announced that NBC would allow Madonna to perform, on the air, the song in her current tour the she sings while suspended from a mirrored crucifix. I know the audience and time of day is completely different, but it is a bit ironic that telling kids God loves them is "not okay," but singing a song while mocking the crucifixion is fine and dandy. Let us Christians never forget that we are strangers here. We don't fit in.


If this was important to them, they should have gotten a commitment in writing up front.

But in Hollywood, the one who pays the piper gets to call the tune... or toon, as it were.

Madonna can and perhaps did say "It's my way or the highway." If the Veggies lack the desire or the onions to make that threat to Universal, they get what they get. I think Bob and Larry might have slightly less negotiation power than Madonna.

Instead, they'll take Universal's filthy money and complain about it all the way to the bank.

Maybe if their show's a tremendous hit this season, they'll negotiate a new deal they like better. I'm not sure going public on their blog and complaining about Universal was a good move. Embarrassing your boss doesn't go over well in H'wood.

I get the impression this is new news to Big Idea, after having spent their own time in production--time which could have been spent doing something else instead, and for which they won't get paid unless they can broadcast. Nor would they likely be able to release unedited versions without NBC's permission.

I would be extremely surprised to learn that Big Idea hadn't already reached what they thought was a fair agreement on content with NBC, and is now being told their content will be edited post-production. (But then, they may have pushed the envelope, too. Hard to say at this point.)

Oh well. Maybe they can convince FOX to buy the eps from NBC and air unedited. (Before or after Xaolin Showdown...? {g})

Bruce and Jason,

I too am puzzled as to why Big Idea didn't make sure that there was an understanding about content with NBC before agreeing. I mean, I don't find it surprising at all that some of the politically correct bureaucrats at NBC are trying to excise the Christian content from the Veggie Tales episodes, and would find it surprising that they didn't anticipate it at all. I can only surmise that they either were so excited about the prospect of going on Saturday morning network television that they either didn't cross the "t's" and dot the "i's" or they simply relied upon some oral assurances from NBC or they just plain goofed.

But it is plain from Phil Vischer's blog that they stayed on the air because of bigger problems that could be caused to Big Idea if they pulled out at the last minute. Moreover, it's clear that if NBC doesn't change its mind, Big Idea will serve out this commitment and not return after the contract expires. So, I disagree with the suggestion by Bruce that this is a "take the filthy money"-thing with Big Idea.

And Bruce would be right about it not being a good idea if money were the most important thing. However, Big Idea has apparently already decided to fulfill its terms and not renew without these changes, so there really is no downside.

Finally, from what I can glean from Vischer's blog, they haven't come to an agreement with NBC as of yet. But then, I am sure not everything said in negotiations is being published.

That Vischer blogs about it reeks of rank amateurism. They don't seem very savvy about how Hollywood works.

oops.. it posted before I completed my thought!

I can understand them being upset at the changes. I can further understand them deciding not to renew or threaten that.

But I don't get the personal blog thing... it does nothing but show weakness and an attempt to embarrass your client (which is what NBC is). People outside the industry don't really seem to get how things work, and it looks live Vischer is one of them.

Couldn't they do a Jay-Jay the Jet Plane type of trojan-horse show? One where the episodes airing are nominally secular, just to get the kiddies to buy the videos later, which are all religious?

Nobody complained that Jay-Jay was a sellout... or did they?


I have no idea what the Jay-Jay thing is.

Second, I agree that it appears that the handling of the original deal was not done with very much forethought.

Finally, I think that the personal blog thing was to explain why the Veggie Tales you see on TV is going to be devoid of Christian references. I don't think it was intended to be a pity poor me type of thing.

I don' t think it's a "pity poor me" thing either. I think either it's an "okay fans, everyone rise up against our evil atheistic client" or it's "well, we made this deal, we couldn't turn down the money, but the Washington Times blew it that we don't have any christian content, so now we look like big sellouts, quick shore up the fanbase by playing the persecution card."

Neither of which will play well in Hollywood. In Hollywood, you never, EVER bite the hand.

The proper way to play this would be to issue a statement that NBC sets the standards and practices for their children's broadcasting, and if fans have any comments they can contact NBC directly. That would be the professional way to handle it.

Unless Veggie Tales is a huge hit on NBC, I don't expect it'll be back next season.

Oh, and google JayJay or check your local Christian store for his videos. His secular episodes air on PBS.

I agree there were more professional ways to have gotten the same result (if the result being aimed at was a grassroots campaign to NBC by the fanbase, so to speak.)

However, I'm somewhat dubious that NBC could have contracted them for enough money in one season, compared to the revenue they pull in from their established base just by doing straight-to-video (and licensing is apparently not remotely a problem for them either {lopsided g}), to make it look attractive as an option _despite_ knowing ahead of time that they'd have to go without Christian content.

The point being, they're already a success (even despite bankruptcy). Saturday morning slots score hugely for the networks on commercial time sold, but I'm doubtful the production companies see much of that. (Partly explaining the dearth of quality material.) As usual, the people putting up the money are who _make_ the lion's share on the deal.

In other words, if they were doing something sneaky on the front end, I doubt it was for the money they'd get out of one season's residuals. (Since if they _were_ doing something sneaky they'd have to know they were hugely risking only getting one season out of it--and risking their company rep, too.)

It's more plausible that they just got caught by a situation which they _and_ NBC both thought had been sufficiently negotiated in good faith--Vescher is ticced, thinking he was betrayed, and so does what ticced people do.

It's also entirely plausible that someone on the oversight committee got cold feet at the last moment, and implemented changes within a contractural clause, figuring they could deflect bad-PR from a ticced off Big Idea (so long as they stayed within the letter of the contract), but possibly not deflect some kind of class action suit from a political lobbying group. (When following the money doesn't look very plausible, follow the lawyers... {wry g})

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