'Nothing Sacred': The End

'Nothing Sacred': The End
by L. Brent Bozell III
April 1, 1998

In mid-March, after incurring the wrath of millions of Christians, ABC finally canceled the Catholic-bashing drama "Nothing Sacred," thereby granting blessed relief to opponents of blatantly, calculatedly offensive television.

Those who pointed out, even before this series premiered last September, that it was a fiasco in the making have been proven absolutely right. Although liberal TV critics (predictably) heaped praise on "Nothing Sacred," its premiere finished only in the middle of the Nielsen pack. Be patient, ABC told the world; sophisticated shows take time to build an audience. But week after week of anti-Catholic programming made matters worse; ratings for the series fell off considerably. Then, adding injury to insult, advertisers started pulling out, publicly acknowledging that they wanted nothing to do with anti-religious bigotry. (In the end, more than three dozen sponsors withdrew.)

But a determined ABC poured huge amounts of money into advertising to turn the tide. Programs that rated higher than "Nothing Sacred" were taken off the schedule, but to the public's amazement, "Nothing Sacred" was renewed for another thirteen episodes. The network told the world it had figured out the problem: Wrong time slot! So they moved the show to Saturday night. There, in its final two airings, it registered dead last in the ratings. ABC was forced to concede defeat.

But have supporters of "Nothing Sacred" learned anything from all this? The easy answer is No. Common sense indicated that there was no market whatsoever for a drama trashing Catholicism. Take away disgruntled left-wing Catholics, militant homosexuals, and a handful of other perpetually angry opponents of tradition, any tradition - and you've got the other 99% of the public to deal with. That made no difference to ABC, nor did the huge amount of money the network lost on this doomed-from-the-start project. ABC had an agenda, pure and simple, and they were going to see it through.

Now that the show is gone, the same sense of denial is back. The TV critics that pushed the show refuse to admit the failure of the series was attributable to its sheer obnoxiousness. Rather, they blame both ABC, for moving it around the schedule, and the viewing public, for being too dumb to appreciate it. Their enthusiastic praise for "Nothing Sacred," juxtaposed with its anemic ratings, demonstrate not only that the concept of a "media elite" is valid, but also that the mantra "television only reflects reality" is sheer nonsense since those involved in the business of television have no idea what reality is. To wit:

-Ken Parish Perkins, Fort Worth Star-Telegram: "You can only push so far in television before sweaty accountants start showing up... I suppose 'Nothing Sacred' could have had a better shot at success had it been... not so challenging... In 'Touched By an Angel' and ''7th Heaven,' or even 'Promised Land'... spiritual growth never appears to be all that messy, and problems are always resolved." (Imagine the nerve of those programs' producers, putting life-affirming messages on the air!)

-Joanne Ostrow, Denver Post: "High-minded... Too smart for TV." (Translation: Too enlightened for the poor, uneducated, and easy-to-command types.)

-Allan Johnson, Chicago Tribune: "A sensitive, quietly powerful series examining faith in God in the face of today's harsh realities."

-Tim Cuprisin, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: "It was the only prime time... show to deal with religion... Not religion as angels and fantasy, but religion as an integral part of the lives of realistic characters." ("Angels and fantasy"! I think we just found the long-absent Madalyn Murray O'Hair, and she's working under an assumed name.)

Floundering ABC, which finished last among the full-time webs in the February sweeps, simply couldn't carry "Nothing Sacred" any longer. But how the network probably feels, deep down, about the show is suggested by its publicist, who sighed that one of the hearts broken by its demise was "mine... I [won't] get to read those fabulous scripts anymore."

"Nothing Sacred" executive producer David Manson declared that his series "tried to... deal not just simply with... religion but with paradox and ambiguity in terms of human behavior... I'm hoping there's a cable channel out there that's not as convulsed with the need to prop up their overnight ratings and might be interested in this kind of a show." ( I suspect that Ted Turner, who owns not a few cable networks and who once referred to Christianity as "a religion for losers," may be getting a call from Manson any day now.)

Ultimately, "Nothing Sacred" is defunct because almost everyone in America had the good sense not to watch. But credit for leading the charge against it is due William Donohue, the indefatigable president of the Catholic League. I'm sure Mr. Donohue would agree that this is only one battle victory in an ongoing cultural war. But it's a big one. "Nothing Sacred" is gone. Thank God.