We have a winner in the war of the television Jesus projects.
Yes, it's true, CBS's Jesus miniseries and ABC's animated Jesus movie haven't even aired yet, although NBC's "Mary, Mother of Jesus" has. And, yes, winners usually are declared based on their ratings or the quality of the production.
But CBS has managed to recruit Pope John Paul II to help it publicize its miniseries and, well, what can I say, it doesn't get bigger than the pope.
Here's how it happened. CBS Television CEO Leslie Moonves--the godfather of network TV suits in all matters related to promotion and publicity--jetted to Rome last week to screen CBS's "Jesus" for an audience that included the president of Italy.
While there, Moonves got an audience with the pope at the Vatican and delivered to His Holiness a copy of the four-hour mini, which is set to air during the May sweeps.
Sorry, NBC and ABC.
After meeting the pope, Moonves winged back to Los Angeles to attend a public hearing the NAACP scheduled for today to discuss its charges that the broadcast networks engage in discriminatory hiring in front of, and behind, the camera.
The civil rights group has invited more than 200 people to the event, at the Century Plaza Hotel. The four major broadcast networks--ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox--last week got letters from NAACP President Kweisi Mfume requesting their participation at the 10 a.m. hearing, scheduled to last six hours.
In one such letter, he said it "will not be conducted as a trial" but will be a review of the television industry's practices by an NAACP "hearing panel."
The networks were told that they will each be given 10 minutes to make a statement about their commitment to on-air and executive-suite diversity, after which their representatives will be questioned by the panel.
Mfume has invited suits from the talent agencies and the industry guilds, as well as writers, producers, directors and actors, to testify.
In addition to Mfume, the NAACP camp is set to include assistant general counsel Debbie Liu and communications director John White.
Early this month Mfume said he would hold the hearing to determine the extent to which "continued segregation" hurts minorities trying to work in broadcast TV. The broadcast networks had their world rocked by Mfume last summer when he publicly blasted their fall prime-time lineups, calling them a "virtual whitewash."
At the time, he said the NAACP would consider taking legal action and/or boycotting one or more of the networks if the situation didn't change. More recently he's said the NAACP would boycott one of the four networks for two months, starting Jan. 1 and extending through the February sweeps race.
Meanwhile, the broadcast networks have been adding minority actors to their new shows and cutting deals for new series, movies and specials with minority writers, producers and directors at a speed wondrous to behold.