A Week of Watching TBN (Part 1)

Todd Hertz

Before one fateful week this fall, I’d never watched a minute of the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN). All I knew was what I’d read, heard or glimpsed while channel surfing—headlines about mixing money and ministry, a reputation for being cheesy, a talk-show set with golden thrones, and some woman with big pink hair.

I was intrigued by the network, though, when I read that according to Nielsen ratings, TBN is the most watched religious channel in the U.S. (it also reaches 74 other nations). The 36-year-old ministry claims to serve an average of five million households every week during prime time. Well, make that five million and one, at least for one November week when challenged myself with a Julie/Julia-type experiment to watch three full hours of primetime TBN programming for 5 straight nights.

A snapshot of my week: I laughed aloud at something cheesy and unintentionally funny 10 minutes into my first hour of watching. On night two, I spotted the pink hair. By night three my wife decided I was officially crazy because I wasn’t giving up this experiment. She’d often walk by me on the couch and shake her head. On night four, I paused the DVR to run upstairs. When I came down, my wife was watching TBN on her own—and without being forced by any silly dedication to an experiment.

Yes, I was happy my week of forced viewing was over when I completed those 15 hours on Friday night. I’d seen some cheesy stuff. I’d listened to pastors who certainly mixed money and ministry.  But I’ll admit that I was pleasantly surprised by some programs. I liked Precious Memories with Bill Gaither (Tuesdays, 9:30/8:30c), which aired a Johnny Cash documentary, and Kingdom Connection (Mondays, 9/8c), featuring sermons of Jentezen Franklin, a talented storyteller. I enjoyed Ancient Secrets of the Bible (Wednesdays, 9/8c)—specifically, an episode about the alleged 1917 Virgin Mary appearances in Fatima.

It became clear very early on to me that while most of TBN primetime is pay-to-play, the network’s two self-produced shows, Behind the Scenes and Praise the Lord, showcase what can work best on TBN. Praise the Lord, a variety program of music and interviews, featured thoughtful guests with admirable stories and Behind the Scenes gives viewers a background look at the network with interviews of those involved.

What these two shows had in common was simply telling the stories of God’s people. On Behind the Scenes, Paul Crouch, Jr. (subbing for his father), conducted two inspiring interviews: One with an 82-year-old woman who parachuted out of a plane to raise awareness (and money) for a TBN affiliate, the other with a former Muslim (now Christian) who discussed evangelism in an intelligent, respectful way. Moments like this are the true heart of TBN—a passion to share Christ with the world.

Do you watch TBN? Why or why not? What shows do you like? What have you found there that troubles you or supports your faith?

Topics: TV, Culture At Large, Arts & Leisure, Theology & The Church, Faith, Theology, The Church