Daniel Wattenberg, the arts and features editor of the conservative Washington Times, wrote a piece last week chiding Hollywood for being confounded by the ratings success of the History channel’s mini-series The Bible. ”Blockbuster ratings for a compilation of bible stories from a reality TV producer taking his first crack at drama? Can’t be,” Wattenberg writes in the persona of a studio exec. “If there was a market for biblical epics, then Hollywood wouldn’t have long ago abandoned the genre. … Makes no sense.”
No one can blame Wattenberg for taking a poke at Hollywood’s apparent reluctance to capitalize on the huge audience of the faithful. As I myself have joked repeatedly, if The Passion of the Christ had been about anything else, the Book of Acts would already be in the can.
But just for the record, no one in Hollywood is baffled by The Bible’s success. I think The Passion of the Christ blowout took them aback a little, but everyone gets it now: There’s a large audience of religious people who are tired of being mocked and put down by a small cadre of coastal sophisticates, but who will show up for solid, non-pandering faith-based entertainment. They’re not stupid; they’re not changing their minds; they’re not going away.
So why isn’t there more good work for the faithful? The problem is not Hollywood cluelessness, nor is it Hollywood evil. Conservatives tend to over-emphasize both.