New 'soap opera' tries to achieve moral tone

Critics usually view the Coalition for Better Television as an attempt to limit the public's viewing choices. But some religious groups are in the business of expanding programming choices.

Traditionally confined to the closet of Sunday morning broadcasts, religious programming is now attempting to step into the mainstream.

At least one soap opera with religious overtones is already on the air and another could be hatched by fall. There is also talk of game shows with the same emphasis.

Among the most innovative offerings is the recently aired soap opera, "Another Life." Billed as a "refreshing new continuing drama," the show stresses the theme that "faith in God" enables one to overcome the trials of life.

The serial's featured family, the Davidsons, encounter many of the same problems that beset other daytime soap opera families. But the difference, say the show's producers, is in the Davidson's "inner strength," which enables them to handle the problems. "The source of that strength is God," says the show's promotional material.

The half-hour show is produced by the Continental Broadcasting Network, a commercial subsidiary of the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) of Virginia Beach, Va. It is being aired on 65 independent television stations around the country. The Rev. Pat Robertson, a popular television evangelist, is the founder of CBN and generally credited with spawning the serial.

According to Robert Aaron, the show's executive producer and a former NBC daytime programming director, many independent television stations were decrying the limited quantity and quality of shows available. There was a need for more "wholesome programming." Hence the development of "Another Life."

The show's use of religion is low key. "We're not overtly Christian in what we try to do," says Mr. Aaron. "The show's approach is one of example rather than sermonizing. We'd be kidding ourselves if we thought we could only educate people. First we have to entertain."

There are rarely any overt references to God or church. A teaching-by-example approach seems to be laced through much of the dialogue. In one recent episode, for instance, Lori Davidson lectures football hero Russ Weaver on the need for more than "romantic love" between them. She says their relationship shouldn't exclude others. Boyfriend Russ grudgingly agrees. The serial seems bent on communicating "love instead of ugliness, hope instead of despair, solutions instead of nothingness. . . ."

Roy Winsor, script supervisor and former producer of such successful soap operas as "Search for Tomorrow" and "Love of Life," sees the family in "Another Life" held together by "discipline, loyalty, and moral standards" -- values, he says, which have been "abused and scoffed at in today's world."

Critics thus far have been favorable toward the venture. CBS's Jeff Greenfield questions whether "audiences will accept a soap opera that doesn't offer real titillation. But at least they [CBN] have the courage to find out."

National advertising for the show is so far at the "talking stage," but Aaron says it is selling well with the local station advertisers. A second serial is expected to be released by fall, and there is talk of daytime game shows.

"We've had to prove ourselves with programming," says Aaron "and I think we've done it."

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