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Study Says Religion Often Ignored in Prime-Time TV : Television: Media monitoring group also finds that when faith is considered, it is negatively.

March 08, 1994|DANIEL CERONE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Although network television is often accused by conservatives of engaging in religion-bashing in its entertainment programming, a study released Monday found that Hollywood ignores religion far more than it demeans it.

But on the rare occasions when TV programs do deal in more than a passing way with issues of faith, they usually do so negatively, according to a Media Research Center study documenting prime-time TV's hostility toward religion and people who are religious.

"Hollywood has to take stock of its responsibility to society," said L. Brent Bozell III, chairman of the Media Research Center, an Alexandria, Va.-based media monitoring group that said it watched all of the first-run broadcasts by CBS, ABC, NBC and Fox in prime time last year--more than 1,000 hours of programming--to draw its conclusions.

In all those hours, researchers found only 116 instances when religion was dealt with.

"While surveys show that nine out of 10 people consider religion an important part of their lives, it is not important in Hollywood," said Bozell, whose conservative organization operates on an annual budget of $2.3 million from individuals and subscriptions to several watchdog publications.

The study found that when characters voiced simple declarations of belief or non-belief, the portrayal was overwhelmingly positive. For instance, a father on CBS' "Picket Fences" said in one episode: "The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor man can see."

But when the networks portrayed religious leaders or characters to whom religion was an integral part of their lives, the coverage swung dramatically toward the negative. The study cited an episode of NBC's "Law & Order" in which one of the detectives said: "My old lady had a rosary in her left hand while she beat the crap out of me with her right. Next time I go to church, six of my closest buddies will be carrying me."

Religious leaders and clergy seemed to get equally tough treatment, the study said. In one episode of NBC's "The John Larroquette Show," a prostitute mentions a client who is "not important yet, but someday, he could be the Pope." And two broadcasts of Fox's "Martin" featured Leo Lonnie Love, a pimp turned minister "who still acts like a pimp," the study reported.

The entertainment study released Monday followed another Media Research Center study released last week that found network news equally guilty of negative broadcast images about religion--although, for the most part, TV stories on religion were numerically insignificant, it said.

Bozell sees hope with such shows as ABC's "Thea," which includes a reference to God in the title song; CBS' "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman"; and last week's inspirational TV movie "The Dennis Byrd Story" on Fox. There's also a CBS series due in April, "Christy," about a devout rural school teacher in the 1920s.

The study concluded that Hollywood should recognize the importance of religion in American society, teach morality, present religion matter-of-factly and hire religious writers or consult with religious organizations.

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