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Communicating Our Faith on Television

“GOOD NEWS TIME”

By Miles O’Brien Riley | October 1983
The Rev. Miles O’Brien Riley serves the Archdiocese of San Francisco as its Director of Information. For over two years, he has been conducting one-day, on-camera workshops to train church leaders for television news interviews.

Superstar TV religion has peaked. Charismatic celebrities have crowded each other off the spec­trum. Talented televangelists are now all talking to largely the same dwindling five percent of the Ameri­can audience. Televised worship has been found to be about as nourishing as a TV dinner. The present trend is away from show biz and back to church, a return from electronic pulpit to real life small group spiritual growth communities.

Coincidentally, public service television is also dying. The free air time legally set aside for com­munity affairs and religious programming is no longer required by a deregulated, commercially oriented industry. Over 90 percent of all religion on TV is already “paid religion” (i.e., broadcast on purchased airtime). And the lovely little old ladies whose weekly contributions buy that time are get­ting older and their pension checks are getting smaller.

If personality-cult and public-service religion are disappearing from the TV screen and are al­ready largely relegated to the Sunday morning ghetto in any case, where do we Christians go to tell our story, the good news of salvation? The ex­pression “good news” may give us a clue.

For some time now television’s true prime time has been the evening news. It is relatively in­expensive to produce, animates the day’s radio and newspaper coverage, and offers a tired but curious America a relatively live and lively source of enter­tainment under the rubric of serious news repor­tage. With half-hour “news updates” in the early morning and at noon, with a nightcap recap at 11 p.m. and again at sign-off (didn’t that used to be the “benediction”?), local television is developing an ever-increasing appetite for local news.

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