Welcome to another installment of “Casual Game Show Fan”, a column that explains the mechanics of our little geek world to those who know who hosted “The Price Is Right” last week, but doesn’t know who hosted it back in the 60s… Bill Cullen, by the way. It was Bill Cullen. Read Adam’s book if you don’t believe me.
This time, I have an idea. Let’s have a lovelorn single person, ready and waiting to meet “The One” (TM), trademarked because I personally think “The One” (TM) is not so much an idea that there is a soul mate for everyone, but that there’s an industry hard at work making money hand over fist selling this delusion. This single person has a few close friends who know of a few close friends who are also single, ready to meet someone, and armed with about as much game as they can muster from watching every Tyler Perry movie ever created (yes, that includes “Star Trek”). They introduce their friends to this person, and the one friend who the single person chooses gets the date… and the friend who introduced them gets $10,000.
Let’s say I pitch this to a network. I would probably get laughed out of every office that wasn’t part of the 21st Century Fox empire (this is the network that thought cloning “The Voice”, “The Bachelor”, and Prince Harry was a good idea, mind you). In fact, the last original idea that Fox had was to import a talent contest from Britain in 2002, lock, stock, and acerbic judge with daft crew cut. But that’s another column.
So having received more rejections than I personally did in high school (smirk), I flip over to GSN and watch something called “The American Bible Challenge”, an Emmy-nominated series of critical and popular acclaim that stresses the Word of G-d without getting too preachy about it (it was theist-friendly, but also non-theist-accessible). And lo and behold, my prayers are answered. Take the concept, but instead of friends, use church family. Instead of a $10,000 prize, make it a charitable donation. Instead of a studio, use a house of worship. And instead of Joe Game Show Host, use a Christian celebrity that Casual Game Show Fan can warm to (sorry, Kirk Cameron). Oh yeah! And because it’s a reality show, you need to have a sponsor to foot the bill, maybe ChristianMingle.com, and promise the sponsor free reign up to and including making the show a glorified 60-minute commercial for the sponsor.
I am not certain how “It Takes a Church” got greenlit at GSN, but if I were to take a stab in the dark about it, this would be my best guess. The show that premiered on June 6 is not just a horribly bad show all around, it also feels to me like a giant hustle for everyone involved.
Now I’m going to violate a serious critical more here and talk about myself. I live in North Carolina, an hour from Raleigh, two hours from Greensboro, three hours from Charlotte, and 10 minutes from Fort Bragg, home of the Airborne, with its military population swearing by G-d, country & flag. And speaking of, the surrounding counties are more or less rural, conservative and deeply religious. Basically, that puts me smack dab in the middle of the Bible Belt, where you can get away with anything as long as you can cite Scripture telling you it’s a good idea.
With all due respect to the many friends I met who live here and fall into that demographic… you will lap this show up, all the while nascent in the fact that it’s nothing more than a condensed, watered down version of “The Bachelorette” that seems to prey upon traditional gender roles (will a man be subject to a search from his fellow parishioners? Time will tell) and lasts an hour rather than a day. They will look upon the contestants not as competitors for a prize, but as overbearing, overemotional figure to which they can relate. They’ll see the pastor as a shepherd of flock and not someone who’s also in it to win it. They’ll see Natalie Grant’s face – and hear her voice – and see not a host who is better off not quitting her day job but as a Grammy-nominated servant to the Good Word.
This is not to say that being a Christian show on a secular network is not a bad thing. Far from it! But you honestly have to question more than a few motives of a congregation that will willfully allow the cameras of a basic cable network to film a matchmaking reality show in their pews. I think the participants of the first episode speak for themselves. Rumor has it that several hundred to several thousand churches were courted for the series, but a great majority turned them down. More power to them.
But the show, pardon the pun, will preach to the Casual Game Show Fan choir and gain their viewership from the faithful, never mind that at its heart it’s just a dating show with choir robes carrying the cross for all the world to see, a testament not to the power of earnest prayers, but to the power of faith externalized for public consumption. The same way a politician will appear in public with wife and kids by his side to show that he values family. The same way a rejected love song will be rewritten as an affirmation to his own personal god. The same way a preacher will say to love thy neighbor with Bible in hand, then endorse legislation banning the one neighbor he has who happens to love his own gender from being married. The same way you will walk into a Christian bookstore and see the Bibles in the back, but the latest works by Joel Osteen and Rick Warren in the front. GSN, make no mistake, is in the business of making money. And if it takes putting their hit “TABC” in a blender with a dating game format and turning it up to “liquefy” to do it, well then, so be it.
To borrow a quote from Leonard Pitts, “It becomes a whirl of G-d talk and G-d iconography, a cross as a fashion statement, a WWJD bracelet, a football player kneeling on the field.” And this summer, it becomes a dating game with good intentions hiding behind a flawed execution.
If this is what someone has to do in order to push through a sloppy concept… then G-d help us all.