Networks Bend Knee to Religulous, Ignore Fireproof

“Jesus gave pony rides on dinosaurs.”  Religion “is a giant elephant in the room of comic gold.”

These are just two of the pearls that Bill Maher has dropped in the course of appearing on all three broadcast networks in little more than 24 hours.

Maher is on a media tour promoting Religulous, a film he calls a “comedy” though he has been hawking it for months as a documentary.  It opens nationwide on Friday, Oct. 3. 

His broadcast TV trifecta began with an appearance on CBS's Early Show on Monday morning, Sept. 29, then moved to NBC's Late Night with Conan O'Brien in the wee hours of Tuesday, Sept. 30, and continued with a mid-morning appearance on ABC's The View.

By contrast, as of press time none of the networks had yet devoted time to this weekend's surprising box office success of  Fireproof despite its fascinating back-story.  Fireproof was made by the Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia, which produced the football-themed Facing the Giants.  That 2006 movie cost only $100,000 to make and has brought in $10 million.  

Fireproof, which stars former Growing Pains star Kirk Cameron, cost less than $1 million and already has recouped the investment several times over.  The tale of a firefighter trying to save his marriage, Fireproof was No. 4 at the box office this past weekend and grossed $6.8 million in spite of the fact that it played in only 839 theatres.

The David and Goliath production story and faith-affirming theme apparently do not interest many TV producers, though NBC's Today gets credit for interviewing Cameron last week.

And credit goes also to Cameron who used his appearance to promote his film, unlike Maher who used his multiple appearances to promote ridicule. For example:

“Well, I mean, Sarah Palin believes in the Bible literally. You know, she believes the Earth is 5,000 years old and it all started in a garden with a talking snake. I mean -- [Makes cuckoo noise, audience laughs] I just felt it was time somebody really presented this, marshaled all this evidence and made a very funny movie. I got Larry Charles, the director of Borat, to direct this movie. So it's a very funny movie, and I would love people to see it for no other reason than just to make a statement that we are not going to let the Sarah Palins of the world take over this country.”  (Late Night with Conan O'Brien)

Or, in the case of the CBS Early Show, Maher unleashed this clip from his movie:

BILL MAHER: Who are you biblically?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I am Jesus Christ man, the sacred covenant of Christ.

MAHER: Not just because you share the name Jesus?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: No. Not because --

MAHER: Because you also share the name Miranda. Maybe you're Carmen Miranda. You may be the second coming of her! You should have fruit on your head, instead of fruit in your head!

[End clip.] 

HARRY SMITH: And Bill Maher is with us this morning. Where did you find that guy?

MAHER: We found that guy in Miami where he preaches. He claims to have thousands, hundreds of thousands of followers. He probably does.

SMITH: Yeah?

MAHER: I mean he proves that it's just way too easy to start a religion.

On ABC's The View, Maher told co-host Sherri Shepherd, a professed Christian, that she should be committed to a mental hospital because she believed God had answered her prayers.

SHERRI SHEPHERD: But Bill, what does that mean to you? Because I know that in believing God, you have to suspend a lot of logic. But when you did this movie you talked to a lot of people about God. Have you ever just talked to God and asked God what does He think?

[Cheers and applause]

WHOOPI GOLDBERG: You better answer this quick because I gotta take us off.

SHEPHERD: The thing is, God will talk to you, Bill. It'll be real deep.  

MAHER:  The question, did he answer you?

SHEPHERD:  He answered me. He absolutely answered me.

MAHER: Then we should call Belleview.

SHEPHERD: No, we don't need to call Belleview.

MAHER: Because that's just a voice in your head.

SHEPHERD: Did he answer you? No, that is not just a voice.

In two of his three network appearances Maher said Religulous has been screened for “religious audiences” and that “they've liked it.”  He made this assertion both with Conan O'Brien and on The View.  And he stated on both shows that he is not being judgmental and was just out to “ask questions.”  However, an almost-aside comment to Joy Behar on The View points to the fact that Maher's intent is to mock religion.

MAHER:  In this movie, one reason why it got such good reviews, and even religious people who watch liked this movie, is that we don't judge. We don't point fingers. We're not making anybody feel bad. I'm just asking questions that nobody ever asks 'cause this is the last taboo subject.

JOY BEHAR:  And then when you get irrational answers,  that's your joke, right?

SHEPHERD: You know the question--

MAHER (to Behar): Yes. Exactly.

Maher doesn't have to literally point his finger at believers to ridicule them.  He does that through editing.  In a clip aired on Late Night with Conan O'Brien, Maher interviews an ex-gay minister.  Maher tells him he thinks he looks gay and the camera cuts back and forth between the minister and Maher as they laugh.  Then the film cuts to an unidentified movie scene with two Roman soldiers, one bent over the other, laughing.  The homosexual connotation is obvious.  Also, as CMI noted last month, when Maher appeared on Larry King to promote his movie, the clip he used was edited to make Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor (D) look foolish.

Maher's right to boast about positive reviews his mock-u-mentary has garnered.  CMI Research Assistant Colleen Raezler rounded up the early press and reported that Hollywood Reporter, Variety and the New York Times were on board with Maher's anti-religion propaganda.  In fact, the New York Times is so on board that reporter John Leland labeled as “sourpusses” any believers who might protest the film.

UPDATE: CMI has learned that ABC News sent a camera crew to Georgia to speak to the producers of Fireproof and plan to air a story on World News.  It remains to be seen whether the reporting on the movie will be balanced.