Beyond '7th Heaven'


The Camden family of the WB Network's "7th Heaven" will finally reach their reward this spring. No, they don't die in a fiery car crash. The Christian-values family drama ends its 10-year run at the end of the 2006 regular television season. The death of a show about a minister and his seven kids is more than a loss to its fans. The cancellation, due to heavily declining ratings, seems to signal a new -- dare we say agnostic -- era on network television.

Overtly Christian dramas have all but vanished from the tube. Gone are the days of weekly worship in front of "Highway to Heaven" and "Touched by an Angel." The critically lauded "Joan of Arcadia" -- about a high-schooler who's practically stalked by God -- disappeared quietly at the end of 2005 season. Then earlier this season, "The Book of Daniel" -- about a pill-popping minister who has visions of a hip, young Jesus -- was canned after vehement protests from groups like the American Family Association.

This is not to say that the American thirst for TV religion has been sated. But instead of God, Jesus, and family, the shows that now take over the dial focus on a more vaguely-defined "supernatural." One of this season's break-out hits is "Medium," in which Patricia Arquette stars as a psychic who helps to solve crimes. "The Ghost Whisperer" on CBS also has a main character who communicates with "the beyond," without mentioning what "the beyond" is. Jennifer Love Hewitt stars as a woman who communicates with errant ghosts, and helps them finish earthly business so they can cross over to the "other side." Where exactly these spirits are heading? We're not sure.

The list goes on. "Supernatural," on the WB is a rather bluntly titled tale of two brothers examining the strange disappearance of their mother. ABC's powerhouse "Lost" also features some murky spiritual journey themes.

So what gives? Where has the Bible gone? Perhaps after the last five years of the Christian Right pushing its agenda to the forefront of the American political landscape, the public has become a little God-ed out. The nightly news is full of stories on creationism, Ten Commandments monuments, and whether or not we are "one nation under God."

No matter how devout the average U.S. television viewer may be, there is a limit to the amount of proselytizing that they want from their flat-screen. When taking their nightly dose of the tube, perhaps they are looking for an escape from the fierce religious debates of reality. They want to laugh at below average singers having their egos destroyed by a British prig, ogle at large men who grunt and smash into each other over a ball, and watch gruesome mysteries unravel through dogged detective work and mysterious forces.

Devoted fans of lukewarm drama on "7th Heaven" can take solace, however, in the knowledge that the Camden family will never die. Instead, they'll live on in that glorious golden palace in the sky -- syndication.

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