NPR commentary by the real DW

Visitors to the blog probably know that there is a real live Rev. Daniel Webster. He is the director of communications for the Episcopal Diocese of Utah. Today he offered this commentary on the show on KCPW, the NPR affiliate in Salt Lake City:

Nine million people watched the debut episode of The Book of Daniel last Friday on NBC. Many friends, and even strangers, have been calling or emailing – How was your show, they ask.

They’re talking about the coincidences between my life and the TV series. The Book of Daniel is about an Episcopal priest, the Rev. Daniel Webster. That’s my name and I’m an Episcopal priest.

The character, played by Aidan Quinn, has a female bishop, played by Ellen Burstyn. My bishop in real life is the Right Reverend Carolyn Tanner Irish. She’s the bishop of Utah. So the coincidences are eerie.

I’ve been asked if The Book of Daniel is an accurate portrayal of my church, of clergy, clergy kids, of bishops and more. My answer is pretty matter-of-fact.

It’s not supposed to be accurate. It’s entertainment. It’s not a documentary produced by the news division. It’s a replacement series designed to increase ratings.

The Book of Daniel is filled with as much of society’s ills as possible. Some are calling it another nighttime soap opera. I’ve likened it to Peyton Place in clergy collars. That presumes you know of the 50s book and movie or the 60s TV series, Peyton Place.

Tom Shales – the Pulitzer Prize-winning TV critic at the Washington Post – hated the show.

Scott Pierce – the TV writer for the Mormon Church-owned Deseret Morning News – said it was the best series to hit TV this season. So I guess you either love it or hate it.

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Some of my sister and brother Christians are making a host of judgments about network TV, my church’s stand on homosexuality or women in ordained church leadership.

Pierce said it was not anti-family and not anti-religion. Diane Winston, a professor of media and religion at the University of Southern California wrote, “The Book of Daniel doesn’t disparage Bible-believing Christians.”

Some Christians disagree. They want the program cancelled. They’ve called for a boycott of advertisers. That seems a bit harsh. After all, Jesus did say, “judge not lest you be judged.”

The Episcopal Church takes few positions on social issues. When it does – such as its opposition to the death penalty or the consecration of a gay bishop living in a covenant relationship – we do so prayerfully and in deliberate conversation.

There’s a lot more to ministry in the Episcopal Church than what’s portrayed so far by my namesake on NBC.

Before the series’ premiere, I wrote to Jeff Zucker the president of NBC television. I told him I hoped the series would be “provocative, filled with energy, integrity and authenticity.”

I found snippets of those qualities in the show. But Hollywood often leans toward the prurient rather than the prophetic. I hope in the remaining episodes there’s more quality than sensationalism.

But when network ratings are on the line, quality usually loses out.

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