God’s messengers didn’t smite ‘Daniel’

EVERY PICTURE tells a story, and every TV series cancellation sends a message.

At least, that’s what the folks at the Traditional Values Coalition would have you believe, gloating over NBC’s decision to drop its low-rated drama “The Book of Daniel,” about an Episcopal priest and his dysfunctional family. That action, TVC exec director Andrea Lafferty wrote, “should send a powerful message to Hollywood: Stop the Christian-bashing!”

Lafferty proceeded to note that the show’s creator is an “open homosexual,” motivated by a “personal agenda … to discredit Christianity.” Refusing to heed the coalition’s gripes, she concluded, “can be costly — as NBC just learned.”

Damn right. And pretty soon Nielsen will smite “Desperate Housewives” and its openly homosexual creator for depicting one of its principals grappling with a nun. Just you wait, missy.

Of course, for virulently anti-gay groups that use religion as a rationale for homophobia, examples of Hollywood’s alleged anti-Christian bias make perfect fodder for fund-raising and rallying the troops. Tuesday’s Oscar nominations for “Brokeback Mountain” will surely trigger its own fusillade from Rev. Louis P. Sheldon’s TVC organization — whose primer on the “homosexual movement” cites “its roots in Marxist ideology,” bringing new meaning to the phrase “pinko” — and its ilk.

THE PROBLEM is that the easiest way to deal with cranks is simply to ignore them, which enables wing nuts on both extremes to presume their efforts have been more effective than they truly are. Think of the scene in “The Lion King” where the cub’s feeble growl is replaced by his sire’s fierce roar, causing the youth to briefly assume that he’s the one who scared off the hyenas.

Sure, advertisers initially shied away from “Daniel,” but such orchestrated campaigns haven’t stopped programs from surviving and thriving (think “NYPD Blue” and “Nip/Tuck,” for starters) if they click with viewers. Yet such misperceptions are allowed to linger among opportunistic pundits, zealots and conspiracy theorists who see GE arms deals behind NBC’s every move, in this case feeding the tired culture-war canard that Hollywood is determined to undermine Christianity.

Here’s a news flash: Despite the primary-color rift between the coasts and heartland in 21st century elections, networks and their corporate owners view the U.S.’ vast Christian majority with the same unsentimental eye they apply to everyone else — namely, as potential consumers to amass, not to alienate.

STILL, LET’S ASSUME for a moment that the Traditional Value Coalition is right — come on, there has to be a first for everything — and that “Daniel’s” demise was a message, not a marginal show sentenced to a poor timeslot on a struggling network. If that’s true, what other “messages” might be gleaned from recent cancellations? Here are a few:

“Emily’s Reasons Why Not” — Women have grown tired of programs that lament the difficulties in being a hot blonde, and men don’t care unless said blonde is on roller skates.

“The Apprentice: Martha Stewart” — People have been laundering clothes for years and don’t need a smart-alecky ex-con lecturing them on how to properly fold a damn T-shirt.

“Sex, Love and Secrets” — Those of us who don’t have gratuitous sex with strangers in showers, bathroom stalls and atop bar counters resent the hell out of people who do.

“Head Cases” — Making fun of the mentally ill is not funny, and we refuse to watch on principle –especially if it means missing “Lost.”

“Joan of Arcadia” — Americans are growing sick of self-righteous scolds who think they possess a one-way megaphone to God and should be allowed to dictate everyone’s entertainment choices.

Actually, I kind of agree with that last one.

PROTEST POLITICS, PART 2: Speaking of misguided interest groups, remember the ruckus raised by liberal politicians and the so-called Don’t Count Us Out coalition, a News Corp.-financed effort to block Nielsen’s local peoplemeter service, arguing that the new methodology would undercount African-Americans?

Always a cynical use of racial politics in a business dispute, there’s additional reason to believe the underlying concerns were equally bogus.

In Dallas and Detroit, measured TV viewing by African-Americans has risen considerably since the peoplemeters went online — up more than 20% during the latest sweeps period versus the previous year.

If Oprah can publicly admit she screwed up, maybe the coalition should take a page out of that book.

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