We have entered a quiet stage in the VeggieTales/Madonna wars involving what religious believers can and cannot say on NBC. I have held off for a couple of days since the last update in order to watch for developments in this story and, sure enough, we had some more over the weekend. The big news is that NBC has changed its VeggieTales story, after earlier changing its Madonna story.
The even bigger news is that the Los Angeles Times reported this change in very blunt language, beginning with the headline that read (take a deep breath), "NBC Issues New Explanation for 'VeggieTales' Cuts: After first blaming time constraints, the network says some references to God were edited out of the kids' series to avoid advocating any religion."
Bravo. Alas, NBC executives offered this confession in the form of a press release.
The new statement came in the wake of mounting criticism from advocacy groups that questioned why NBC had asked the creators of "VeggieTales" to take out the references.
"NBC is committed to the positive messages and universal values of 'VeggieTales,'" the statement said. "Our goal is to reach as broad an audience as possible with these positive messages, while being careful not to advocate any one religious point of view."
This is a really interesting claim, since the key statement that has been banned is the VeggieTales motto used at the end of each episode, which is: "Remember kids, God made you special and he loves you very much."
This statement was removed to avoid advocating "any one religious point of view." This would be the controversial doctrinal point of view which maintains that God loves children. Of course, NBC leaders may have assumed that the statement that "God made you special" could be taken as an attack on evolution. That's the ticket. Meanwhile, I should stress that Bob the Tomato does not do anything faith-specific while making this closing benediction, such as falling on his knees and making the sign of the cross. Bob the Tomato (see second image) does not have knees or arms.
The Los Angeles Times article also quoted some statistics that may or may not be raising eyebrows in NBC office suites.
So far, "VeggieTales" has been very successful for NBC in a Saturday morning time slot that has traditionally been difficult for the networks. Thanks to Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber, NBC saw its biggest ratings jump last weekend in Saturday morning children's programming since 2003. ...
In May, NBC Universal entered into a venture with Scholastic Corp., Corus Entertainment Inc., Classic Media/Big Idea Inc. and ION Media Networks to create a Saturday morning block of programming called Qubo. A week ago, in its second week of broadcast, Qubo averaged 402,000 children between the ages of 2 and 11. "VeggieTales" at 10 a.m. was the most watched of the Qubo shows, averaging 430,000 kids, a 16% jump from the previous weekend.
In other coverage of this controversy, The New York Times offered the most interesting spin on the ironic conflict at NBC between the Veggies and Madonna. Check this out:
NBC has drawn protests this week from religious conservatives over the content of two television shows, but for different reasons -- in one instance for excluding references to God and in the other for possibly including religious imagery.
The disputes, over the network's proposed broadcast of a Madonna concert that includes a crucifixion scene and over its cutting religious references from the animated children's show "VeggieTales," have some critics charging that NBC maintains a double standard toward Christianity.
Note that the heart of the story is that conservatives are protesting, not that NBC leaders have taken several different public positions on both of these programming decisions in recent weeks.
It's an especially nice touch to suggest that many traditional Christians are upset about the concert segment in which Madonna hangs on a disco-mirrored crucifix because it contains too much religion. This is something like saying that Muslims were upset about the Danish cartoons because they contained too much religion, as opposed to the fact that they contained religious content that they considered offensive.
Anyone who is interested in knowing more about the actual edits that NBC demanded in the VeggieTales episodes may way to check out this report in The Tennessean, which caught up to this -- for that Nashville newsroom -- local story last weekend. VeggieTales creator Phil Vischer offered some nice details.
Eliminated lines from one episode included "Calm down. The Bible says we should love our enemies." In another episode, Vischer said, NBC allowed the line "the Bible says Samson got his strength from God." But the next line -- "And God can give us strength, too" -- was out.
The changes included cuts in dialogue where characters utter the word "God" and were so last-minute and awkward, Vischer said, that in some cases "it makes the stories not work very well." For the sign-off, where the original words were simply voiced-over, "the lips don't match, so it kind of looks like a Japanese cartoon with lips moving" out of synch with the words, he said.
Actually, that sounds pretty funny to me. I can see Bob and Larry having lots of fun with that effect.