The characters in writer-producer Jack Kenny's The Book of Daniel, starring Aidan Quinn as a modern-day Episcopalian minister, have drawn the indignation of the American Family Association and led to preemptions by four small, Southern NBC affiliates. The two-hour debut Jan. 6 drew mixed reviews and finished third in the ratings. Despite NBC's cutting the episode order from 13 to eight hours (two episodes haven't been scheduled yet), Kenny (Titus, Wanda at Large, Caroline in the City) insists that the network is firmly behind the show. In an interview with B&C's Jim Benson, he also calls the AFA “un-American,” “un-Christian” and “bullies.”
Did you expect higher debut ratings with all the controversy?
I was very satisfied with them. [NBC Entertainment President Kevin Reilly] told me that they had targeted a 2.5 [rating among adults 18-49] for the debut. We had a 2.7, and it built to a 2.8 in the second hour.
Do you think the subject matter goes too far given the climate in the country?
I watched an episode of Desperate Housewives, a show I love, and there was a storyline where a nun told Eva Longoria's character that she was going to split up her marriage and that she wasn't worried because she had God on her side. I didn't see the AFA coming out in force. Bullies go after the new kids. I'm sure a lot of their members probably watch and like Desperate Housewives, and they'd be kind of pissed if the AFA went after it, so they leave it alone. Bullies are scared of kids that are bigger than them.
What kind of support have you gotten from NBC?
Kevin's very content with the numbers. Obviously, we would have loved to come in and knock everybody else out of the water, but it's Friday night. There's a limited number of viewers who watch television then, no matter what the controversy is. He has expressed to me complete faith in the show.
The show failed to make the fall schedule, the episode order got cut, and it became a “limited series.” Was that disconcerting?
I really didn't know what “limited series” meant. [NBC] explained that was just kind of a way to make it feel like something more special than just a short order, so I was pleased with that. If we had gone on the air in November, we would have done all 13. But once NBC decided not to premiere any new shows in November at all, they recognized they were not going to need any more than eight episodes.
Do you think controversy can help shows?
It can help you get some viewers you ordinarily wouldn't get. That happened with us. A few people tuned in and will be back that wouldn't ordinarily have given us a try. At the same time, it's a shame that a lot of people in those small markets weren't given the opportunity to see the show and try something for themselves. That goes from broccoli to television shows. For somebody to tell anybody not to watch something based on their own opinion is not only absurd but un-Christian and un-American.
Does the controversy have any impact on the way you write it?
The controversy will have no impact at all with the dialogue or the characterizations. I would never let someone else dictate how I'm going to follow these characters' lives, and I know for a fact that neither will NBC nor Sony [which co-produces Daniel]. We will let it live or die on its merits.