Comics for Christ

Programmers hope laughter is good for the soul—and viewership

Greg Robbins, creator and star of the sitcom Pastor Greg, has a budget of less than $20,000 per episode for his show. Yet he is hoping that the program, which he bills as “the world’s first Christian sitcom” and is available in over 90 million homes, will “change the face of Christian television.”

Robbins isn’t alone in his mission. Pastor Greg, which looks for laughs in the trials and tribulations of a middle-aged man who gives up a life of heavy drinking and womanizing to become a minister, is part of a growing movement by faith-based programmers to create more-mainstream programming that will entertain viewers while preaching Christian values.

The Guardian Television Network has set up Guardian Studios and has created several original programs, including Bananas, a family-friendly standup-comedy show that has been syndicated to about half the country.

TBN has also been ramping up its original fare for its fledgling cable networks. Its teen-targeted JC-TV has launched two reality shows: Travel the Road, which follows the global journeys of two missionaries, and FM, which is set in a Dallas Christian radio station.

“There is a new generation of Christian broadcasters and filmmakers who want to entertain audiences with a message of hope,” notes Robbins.

Ron Hembree, president of the Cornerstone TeleVision Network, which is funding Pastor Greg and adding shows like Bananas to its lineup, admits that, with small audiences and limited advertising revenues, many Christian broadcasters find it difficult to fund more- expensive fare.

“We are just getting started,” Hembree says. “We are not able to do what we’d like to do. Some of our donors and viewers don’t understand why we’re spending money on shows like Pastor Greg. But we can all see the power of comedy to affect the attitudes and morality of Americans. We felt like we could curse the darkness or light a candle.”