Fri Jan 6, 7:19 AM ET
NEW YORK - Two television stations are refusing to broadcast a new NBC series about an Episcopal priest who abuses painkillers, has a gay son, a promiscuous straight son, a daughter who deals marijuana, and a wife who drinks too much.
Conservative Christian groups have condemned the depiction of Jesus as blasphemous, accusing the writers of portraying Christ as tolerant of sin in talks with the priest.
NBC affiliates KARK in Little Rock, Ark., and WTWO in Terre Haute, Ind., said sensitivity to viewers led them not to air "The Book of Daniel," which debuts Friday. In Little Rock, the WB affiliate has arranged to show the drama instead.
"If my action causes people in our community to pay more attention to what they watch on television, I have accomplished my mission," Duane Lammers, WTWO's general manager, said in a statement on his station's Web site.
The series stars Aidan Quinn as the Rev. Daniel Webster, who discusses his many troubles in regular chats with a robe-wearing, bearded Jesus. The American Family Association, in Tupelo, Miss., and Focus on the Family, the Colorado Springs group led by James Dobson, are asking supporters to lobby their local NBC affiliate to drop the show.
In a statement Thursday, NBC said, "We're confident that once audiences view this quality drama themselves, they'll appreciate this thought-provoking examination of one American family."
But the American Family Association said the series was another sign of NBC's "anti-Christian bigotry." Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, an anti-defamation group, called the series the "work of an embittered ex-Catholic homosexual."
The show's creator and executive producer, Jack Kenny, said he drew on the emotionally guarded family of his male partner for the series. He said his goal was to depict how "humor and grace" help a flawed man struggle with his faith and family. He said the writers never meant to mock religion or Jesus.
However, Bob Waliszewski, of Focus on the Family's teen ministries, said the show portrayed Christ as a "namby-pamby frat boy who basically winks at every sin and perversity under the sun."
"When the pastor's teen son is sexually active and having many romps with his 15-year-old girlfriend, this Jesus says, `A kid has to be a kid,'" Waliszewski said. "I don't think NBC would have portrayed a Muslim cleric or a Buddhist monk, the Dalai Lama, in a show this way. Why? Because they know to do so would be mean-spirited and insensitive."
James Naughton, a spokesman for the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, D.C., said a California Episcopal church is advising the series.
Naughton has read scripts for eight episodes and acknowledged that viewers could take away a troubling message about people of faith, instead of a positive one about overcoming temptation. Still, he said it was "a tremendous opportunity for evangelism for Episcopalians." The Washington Diocese has started a blog to comment on the show and invite discussion.
"To me, this is good for us no matter how it comes out because if people are talking about what Episcopalians are like, it creates tremendous opportunities for us to say, `Here's what we actually are like,'" Naughton said.