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TV Execs Talk Faith-Based Programming at Purpose Summit

Top network executives gathered at Variety’s Purpose: The Family Entertainment and Faith-Based Summit at the Four Seasons Beverly Hills on Thursday to discuss whether the word “faith” in TV is still the elephant in the room.

Paradigm agent Michael Van Dyck moderated the panel and posed the question of whether there is still a negative connotation to faith-based entertainment and if content buyers are afraid that faith means lower entertainment quality.

“It’s just having a little faith in the word faith,” Amy Introcaso-Davis, EVP of Programming at the Game Show Network, said.

She explained that this stance will take time for people to get used to, but with the emergence of many successful, faith-based films this year, that question doesn’t seem to be an issue.

Traci Blackwell, VP of Current Programming at The CW went on to say that faith does not just mean religion. “It’s not just a God thing,” she said. “I think what we try to do is sneak those messages in there without being heavy handed about it.”

For The CW, Blackwell discussed new faith-based shows “The Messengers and “Jane the Virgin.”

“It was a space that we had been exploring, and, truthfully, we’ve been looking for things that would resonate with that audience,” said Blackwell. “With the explosion of ‘God’s Not Dead’ and ‘Heaven is For Real,’ it definitely helped move ahead these projects that before had trouble being made.”

She added: “We are not interested in shying away from what people consider to be religious.” Blackwell said The CW wants to provide good storytelling and pose questions for people to talk about, no matter which side they are on.

At the Hallmark Channel, faith is something the network specifically looks for.

Michelle Vicary, EVP of Programming, Crown Media Family Networks, said, “That is not to say that we don’t have conflicted characters and difficult stories and complex plots. We look to change our audiences in a positive way.”

Vicary believes that entertainment works in cycles, and with the constant dark, sexy and graphic television that has become a trend, programming that is uplifting and inspirational has also become more popular.

Another question being asked is “how flexible we are when we talk about the word ‘faith’?” According to Shana C. Waterman, SVP, Event Series & Multiplatform Programming, Fox Broadcasting Company, shows like “American Idol” are not really considered faith-based, but many contestants talk about their faith and audiences respond to those people.

“It’s very positive that people have freedom to express what they believe in to the world,” Waterman said.

One participant who disagreed was Tom Forman, CEO of Television, Relativity.

For a man who is pitching stories everyday, “faith-based is not the part that I lead with,” he said.

With shows like “American Bible Challenge” and “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” produced by Relativity, Forman said they are succeeding because he can promise buyers that the show will be entertaining first and not wear faith on its sleeve. “The genre really hasn’t exploded,” he said.

Over at CBS, Stacy Mandelberg, VP of Limited Series and Event Programming explained, “For us, it’s actually a bonus. If the story is good, then the faith is just an extra layer.”

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