Faith is getting its due on the small screen 

  • Written by Mark Pattison, Catholic News Service 
  • Published in Movies & TV
Among upcoming Catholic TV programming is the "The Sisterhood: Becoming Nuns," which premieres on Tuesday, November 25, at 10pm ET/PT on Lifetime. Photo: Lifetime Among upcoming Catholic TV programming is the "The Sisterhood: Becoming Nuns," which premieres on Tuesday, November 25, at 10pm ET/PT on Lifetime. Photo: Lifetime

WASHINGTON - Treatments of the Catholic faith are getting their due on various TV networks. Except that, with the fractured nature of the 500-channel universe -- a quaint term to anyone with satellite TV -- you have to keep your eyes wide open. Blink and it'll be gone.

About the only thing viewers can hope for is that the programming will be available on the channel's website, or on YouTube, or available via Netflix or some other streaming service. This applies both to fictional treatments of faith as well as documentaries and news programming.

CBS had an interview with Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley of Boston on the Nov. 16 installment of its long-running newsmagazine "60 Minutes." Excerpts of the interview made the news wires. But an interview like this has a rather short shelf life; don't count on it being rerun in the summer.

Earlier that evening, the Sunday edition of "NBC Nightly News" had a longer-than-usual feature on Archbishop Blase J. Cupich of Chicago two days before his installation as archbishop of the nation's third largest archdiocese. The Jesuits' America magazine partnered with the network on the special.

Try looking at the NBC News website to watch it if you missed it. Given how many American eyeballs are watching football on CBS or Fox that time of the evening, it's likely that a lot of Catholics missed it.

On cable Lifetime's new documentary series "The Sisterhood: Becoming Nuns" follows five women considering joining religious life. The series premiere was scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 25, 10-11 p.m. EST on the cable channel. It sounds a touch reminiscent of the 2006 cable series "God or the Girl," with followed young men as they explored whether they had a call to the priesthood. Lifetime has committed to six episodes of "The Sisterhood," which would take it through Dec. 29 if the episodes run weekly.

But to think of each installment as an "episode" tends to devalue, at least for me, the discernment process these young women must go through. Nor does it help when Lifetime refers to the individuals contemplating religious life as the "cast." Another warning sign: The producers are responsible for two different cycles of the reality series "Breaking Amish," which gives Amish teens a taste of life outside their community and culture, and hilarity most definitely does not ensue.

Journalist Lisa Ling, one of the original hosts of ABC's "The View," explored the reasons some women choose religious life in a Lifetime documentary special two years ago. But in November, Ling, now with CNN, took an hourlong look Nov. 15 on why some men choose the seminary in the first-season finale of her new documentary series "This Is Life With Lisa Ling."

Given the demands of the 24-hour news cycle, it's uncertain at best whether this -- or any -- week of "This Is Life" would be rerun on CNN, except possibly overnight. But CNN does a good job of keeping its expanding documentary programming, under the label of CNN Films -- on its website.

Not to be left out is public television. PBS will lead off a six-part series, "Sacred Journeys With Bruce Feiler," with a group of 30,000 military veterans on a pilgrimage to Lourdes, France, looking for some kind of healing. Half of the soldiers aren't Americans. Of the Americans, half aren't Catholic. Even so, all hope for healing, either physical or spiritual, from the waters of Lourdes. The installment airs Wednesday, Dec. 16, 8-9 p.m. EST. But, as with most PBS programming, it's best to check your local listings to make sure of the date and time.

The A&E cable channel, which hasn't completely surrendered the "A" (arts) and "E" (entertainment) parts of its programming portfolio to reality TV, is presenting some more original programming with two titles designed to appeal to people of faith.

"The Red Tent" stars Minnie Driver and Debra Winger as the two most recognizable names to audiences. It tells the story of the family of Old Testament figures Jacob and Leah as seen through the eyes of their daughter Dinah. The miniseries, based on a best-selling novel, will be shown Sunday-Monday, Dec. 7-8, 9-11 p.m. EST each night.

This continues A&E's successful foray into biblical programming, based on the success early last year with the miniseries "The Bible," which begat the feature film "Son of God."

Roma Downey and Mark Burnett, the husband-wife team responsible for "The Bible" and "Son of God," also return to A&E with a two-hour program, "The Women of the Bible." It will be shown Sunday, Dec. 7, 7-9 p.m. EST on A&E.

Downey will narrate about some of the most "impactful" women of the Bible, including Eve, Sarah, Rahab, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Jesus." There also will be on-screen time granted to some high-profile Christian women, although none of those proffered by A&E in an announcement about the show are Catholic.

This all takes place before their new post-Bible series, "A.D.," debuts on NBC. The peacock network hasn't announced a debut date for "A.D." Its ratings fortunes have revived in the past few years, leaving NBC to be more strategic in finding good time slots instead of using series and specials to plug gaping wounds in its schedule.

In any event, the shows, especially those on cable, need and sometime deserve frequent airing to find their target audience and to amortize the cost of production and rights-buying. So if 9 p.m. on a Monday night during Advent doesn't work for you, you may need to either record it, or be patient and wait for a rerun during Lent -- or at 2 a.m. before the infomercials take over.

When you keep your eye on TV, what do you see? What are your likes or dislikes? What are your concerns and criticisms? Be as general or as specific as you wish. Send your comments to: Mark Pattison, Media Editor, Catholic News Service, 3211 Fourth St. NE, Washington, DC 20017.

Pattison is media editor for Catholic News Service.