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Religious coalition accuses Comedy Central of bad faith

By Lisa de Moraes
Friday, June 4, 2010; C04

Bad-boy network Comedy Central, which has been looking more like a milksop in a little Lord Fauntleroy suit since censoring episodes of "South Park" in April, got a much-needed jolt of cred restoration Thursday when some conservative leaders got so riled about a possible forthcoming show that they staged a news conference.

The project, "JC," may never make it to the network's lineup, but the coalition of media watchdog groups has formed the Citizens Against Religious Bigotry (CARB) in response to the script that has been ordered and which none of them has read.

Back in late April, Viacom-owned Comedy Central censored two episodes of the animated show to take out all references to Muhammad, after a radical Muslim group warned that the show's creators could wind up dead.

Two short weeks later, Comedy Central told advertisers it had ordered a script for a possible animated show about Jesus Christ, who moves to New York City to escape the enormous shadow of his powerful but apathetic father. " 'JC' is a playful take on religion and society with a sprinkle of dumb," the net said.

"This animated show is designed to mock and . . . ridicule and . . . be offensive to Christians," Media Research Center President Brent Bozell told reporters on a news conference phone call. "At this point we say, 'Enough is enough!' We know they're jumping up and down with glee, feeling they're getting all sorts of publicity because of our efforts," Bozell said of Comedy Central, with what we suspect is perfect accuracy.

The coalition has sent letters to more than 250 advertisers asking them to state that they will not advertise on the show they have yet to see. In mid-June, it will release the names of the advertisers who have declared they will not sponsor a show they have not seen.

Each man on the CARB panel spoke -- it was one of those longish phone calls:

"The first point is the question of double standard, which is patently obvious," syndicated radio talk show host Michael Medved said about the censorship of "South Park" vs. the development of "JC."

"Do Christians get punished because they aren't crazy?" Medved fomented. "Try to imagine this wasn't called 'JC.' Imagine it was called 'The Big Mo' and was all about Muhammad, and maybe move Muhammad to New York and he's a camel driver, and all of a sudden he goes, not into a cave as he did outside Mecca, but into a basement in a building and an angel was dictating words to him, and he marries a 9-year-old."

"Let's say someone was preparing a cartoon called 'The Greedy Goldberg' and recycled . . . all the ancient and disgusting stereotypes," Medved continued, on a roll. "The hooked nose . . . the greedy banker . . . and worshiping a cruel, funny, stupid religion."

We'll leave Medved and his show pitch meeting with himself, and move on to Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League:

"I don't get involved in boycotts unless I think I can win," Donohue boasted. "I like the sniper approach . . . I like to pick them off, one by one. You can't boycott against 10 or 15 or 100 sponsors, but you can one by one."

"To exclude only Islam" from your comedy "is a sort of pathetic amalgam of hypocrisy and cowardice," chimed in Rabbi Daniel Lapin, president of the American Alliance of Jews and Christians.

Tim Winter, president of the Parents Television Council, used the occasion to protest the lack of a la carte cable choices for viewers. "Comedy Central has the right to offend me. They do not have the right to force me to pay them to offend me," he said.

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, acknowledged that most of those who are concerned about "this type of open mockery probably don't watch Comedy Central."

Bingo!

A real difference

On the other hand, producers of TV shows that trail people trying to overcome addictions, behavioral disorders, weight issues and so on -- shows like "Intervention," "Hoarders" and "The Biggest Loser" -- are actually doing the Lord's work. And those who create your average scripted TV series with no redeeming social value have got some kind of nerve treating reality-series producers "like child molesters" at cocktail parties, an A&E executive told his reality TV cohorts at a genre confab in Santa Monica.

"I firmly believe it's the most socially valuable product on television," Rob Sharenow, senior vice president of nonfiction programming at A&E network, preached to the choir in a hotel ballroom late Wednesday.

"Who did more for a gay child struggling with their identity than Pedro did?" Sharenow asked rhetorically. He was referring to Pedro Zamora, the AIDS activist who became a pop-culture icon when he was cast on MTV's "The Real World: San Francisco" and died in 1994, not long after that edition of the series wrapped.

Not only do TV cameras not hurt people in rehab, they help, chimed in Troy Searer, CEO of Tijuana Entertainment, which produces A&E's "I'm Heavy" and "Obsessed Season 2," as well as "Inside Rehab" for the new Oprah Winfrey Network.

"You're not going through your sobriety just to your small group of people, you're attempting it in front of millions of people and, with some people, that has a significant impact."

Added Howard Lapides, executive producer of VH1's Drew Pinsky-headliners "Celebrity Rehab" and "Sober House": "They are recovering in front of the world . . . we find the rate [of success] is higher because the camera is on. It's just the way it is."

By the way, here at the two-day summit, reality shows are known as Factual Entertainment. The making-it-real talks continued on Thursday.

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