Channeling Jesus

Bring together a TV-production mogul and the charismatic leader of Calvary Chapel, and you get Cross TV all religion, all the time

"There are a lot of people, for one reason or another, that are turned off [by] the church," says Coy. "But there is also, in the heart of every man, a burning desire to know God. If my biblical mandate is to reach those with truth, the best medium for telling truth to the masses would be the television set."

Kielar says that his goal with Cross TV is to marry the technological sophistication of mainstream TV with a sound message. "If you see what they're doing on television, it's mind-boggling: the animation, graphics, high production values," he notes. "The problem is that the content is sorely lacking in terms of anything with any redeeming value. There's nothing spiritually uplifting. There's no mention of God in any tangible, biblical way."

Christian TV, on the other hand, is usually poorly produced and focuses more on money than on God, Kielar contends. "It's often people holding out their hands, looking for money and representing God in a way that isn't biblical," he says.

At this point, though, Cross TV is as much prophecy as practice. It reaches just 45,000 households in northern Broward County, including parts of Coconut Creek, Margate, North Lauderdale, and Parkland. (Cross TV is broadcast on channel 68 by TCI of North Broward.) Both Kielar and Coy refuse to make any bold projection ("Where God guides, God provides" is their oft-repeated motto), but clearly they have big plans for Cross TV.

They're now finalizing an agreement with Zoe Broadcasting Network (ZBN) that will enable Cross TV to be broadcast to approximately 25 million people in the Philippines and eventually the entire population of the island country -- 74 million. To do so ZBN has to pull together $640,000 for an antenna and transmitter, which should happen within the next couple months, according to Kielar and Coy. While it seems odd that Cross TV would attempt to expand internationally before doing so at home, Kielar claims the Philippines deal is a coincidence. The Philippines-based ZBN approached Cross TV, not the other way around, he says. He admits, however, that he and Coy will soon seek other opportunities to expand internationally.

Eventually Kielar would like to see Cross TV producing at least half of what it airs. But the vast majority of the programs now showing have been created elsewhere, either by production companies, such as Gospel Films, or individual producers. Among the shows are: Masquerade, featuring Christian music videos; Just the Facts, which helps teenagers deal with problems like peer pressure and drug abuse; and more traditional religious shows hosted by well-known evangelists such as Chuck Smith, founder of the Calvary Chapel movement. Cross TV, a nonprofit corporation, has mostly limited itself to producing short spots to fill in the programming holes. One recurring feature is called Prayer Update. The one-minute spots list the many sins famous celebrities -- such as Marilyn Manson, Madonna, or Ted Turner -- have committed, then ask viewers to pray for them.

Cross TV may be a nonprofit organization, but it has more technical savvy and resources than the standard start-up charity. Most of the staff and equipment come from WJMK, Kielar's Boca Raton-based production company, which has created nationally syndicated TV series for networks such as CNBC and PBS. Thanks to WJMK's resources, Cross TV has been able to survive with a relatively streamlined budget.

Cross TV also is soliciting potential donors, primarily Christian-focused, grant-making foundations, with a "wish book" of shows it hopes to produce in the future. One such program is Totally Christian Karate Kids Adventures, a kids show in the vein of Power Rangers and Mortal Kombat. Another is I Have an Answer, a Jeopardy-like game show in which all the questions and answers relate to the Bible. Both have yet to be funded.

Another show, In the Light, is billed as a "Christian soap opera." The text in the wish book asks: "What if there was a TV show that depicted everyday life? The joys, struggles and decisions we all deal with, but dealt with by the wisdom of God's word.... Topics can be covered like how to be a proper witness, sexual immorality and what love is, just to name a few."

The book suggests that viewers won't be the only folks affected by the show: "Every week, believers and nonbelievers alike will be exposed to Christianity, be it memorizing lines on set or watching television at home."

Pastor Bob, who sits on Cross TV's board of directors along with Kielar and one other WJMK employee, says that God will determine how quickly the group moves ahead with its plans. "I'm not a businessman in that sense -- forecasting goals for the future," Coy says. "I'm simply a Christian. I hope to follow in the footsteps of my Savior. It's a little different philosophy."

If that's the case, God is leading Cross TV down one very ambitious path, according to Jeffrey K. Hadden, a professor of sociology at the University of Virginia who studies religious broadcasting. He notes that, while many large churches seek TV time, few actually start a station that goes beyond local markets. Cross TV's plans to produce its own shows will be especially difficult to carry out. "That's a long, long row to hoe," Hadden says.

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