Networks placing new faith in religious shows

Posted: Friday, April 08, 2005

LOS ANGELES — The Gospel according to Mel, as the TV industry views it, is that religion sells.

With Mel Gibson's ''The Passion of the Christ'' ranked among the 10 highest-grossing movies ever and with glowing visions of ''The Da Vinci Code'' profits before them, TV networks are embracing a newfound faith.

A miniseries about the Book of Revelation airs next week, while shows about a Catholic priest probing the supernatural and an Episcopalian minister who converses with God are on the drawing board.

Traditionally soft-focused spirituality, exemplified by ''Touched by an Angel'' and ''Joan of Arcadia,'' is giving way to programs rooted in specific religions and their elements.

Do networks have a prayer of turning stronger fare into ratings winners?

There are believers — especially those connected to the shows — and doubters.

When ''Revelations'' was pitched to four networks, they ''all bit,'' said executive producer Gavin Palone, who sold the project to NBC before Gibson's film was released. Debuting April 13, the miniseries is about a scientist and a nun investigating evidence that the ''End of Days'' as predicted in the Bible is near.

''The Book of Daniel,'' about a minister (Aidan Quinn) who abuses prescription drugs and is visited by a ''cool, contemporary Jesus,'' is in development at NBC. Fox is working on ''Briar + Graves,'' a pilot about a priest teaming with a neurologist to examine unexplained events.

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