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Billy Graham Program Takes Cue From MTV

Evangelism: New $8-million TV crusade, which will air in L.A. area tonight, features fast-paced video. Program is expected to reach 2.5 billion viewers worldwide.

April 20, 1996|LARRY B. STAMMER | TIMES RELIGION WRITER

Everyone knows that when Billy Graham preaches he turns to the Bible as his authority. But few would guess that the world's best known Christian evangelist is taking some tips from a broadcaster of hedonistic--at times sexually suggestive--rock videos.

Graham, of course, is not trading in sex. But the success of MTV television in holding a viewing audience in today's visually oriented society has prompted Graham to try something new, at least for him, as he opens a worldwide television program this month.

To be broadcast tonight on Los Angeles' KTLA, Channel 5, at 9 p.m., the $8-million "Billy Graham World Television Series" will be no typical "crusade" with the usual broadcast shots of Graham preaching with Bible in hand against a backdrop of choirs and breakaway scenes of erstwhile sinners in the audience.

Graham will not even be seen for the first five minutes of the program. Instead, the audience will see what the Billy Graham Evangelistic Assn. says is an "MTV-style" video production. Entitled "Starting Over," it tells stories of the frenetic search by individuals for purpose and meaning in their lives.

There are quick visual cuts between scenes, which alternate between color and black and white. There are voice-overs and cameo appearances by people such as former U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young and singer Glen Campbell.

In one scene, a yuppie accused of embezzlement is seen driving off in his car. His radio is tuned to a newscast report that police expect to make an arrest shortly.

As the camera zooms in on the young banker sitting behind the steering wheel, he points a handgun to his temple. Graham's voice is heard in the background. "For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world . . . (a shot rings out) . . . and lose his own soul?" Another cut shows someone with AIDS asking for a second chance. There is background music by Kurt Cobain and Nirvana.

"Only God who made us can touch us and change us and save us from ourselves," Graham is heard to say. Graham's preaching is taken from recordings of an earlier crusade he held in Atlanta in October 1994.

The broadcast, produced by Phil Cooke Pictures Inc. of Burbank and directed by Lee Cantelon, is also a first in another way. It will mark the first time that Graham has broadcast to 200 nations in 50 languages. Although the broadcast was delayed until tonight in Los Angeles, much of the world saw it April 14.

That means that more people heard him preach on a single day--an estimated 1.5 billion people--than on any previous day in history, according to Graham's organization. When the program's run is complete this month, Graham expects to have reached 2.5 billion viewers worldwide.

In foreign countries, local churches were invited to organize television parties for members and friends to watch the broadcast together.

"We have been working diligently for months in various countries around the world to mobilize these pastors," Graham spokeswoman Mary Becker said in an interview.

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