Hollywood Christians Issue Casting Call

( [email protected] ) Jul 06, 2003 01:56 PM EDT

NEW YORK — Members of Congress frequently complain there's too much drugs, sex and violence in the entertainment industry. Apparently somebody in Hollywood has been listening.

A group of Christian directors, writers and producers has appealed to Congress to put its money where its mouth is and help them encourage more quality entertainment programming.

Act One Writing for Hollywood (search), which trains and mentors Christian screenwriters, has called on lawmakers to acknowledge morally heartening, real-life scenarios played out on the big screen, and to use their influence to shine light on the good in Tinseltown.

"The grand goal is to simply affect culture in a positive way," said Zena Dell Schroeder, associate director of Act One.

Reaching out to Washington "will also make us more on the same team so we won't be fighting each other ... but work[ing] together to accomplish similar goals," Schroeder said.

"All this cursing of Hollywood is doing nobody good and is only creating enemies, and what you're going to get out of artists who are fiercely independent is more mud," Dean Batali (search), co-executive producer of Fox's That '70s Show and an Act One member, told Foxnews.com. "The more mud you sling at them, the more mud they're going to sling back."

Members of Act One, which includes theologians as well the writers and producers of shows and movies such as Mission Impossible, Batman Forever, The Family Man, A Different World and The Addams Family, were hosted on Capitol Hill recently by Sen. Rick Santorum (search), R-Pa., and Rep. Mike McIntyre (search), D-N.C.

"There's plenty of negativism already in the entertainment industry, unfortunately — profanity, sexual acts, violence," McIntyre said. "Whenever we can promote an opportunity to promote the positive view on issues, on family, on society, then I say more power to those that will promote the positive."

While in Washington, the group also met with representatives from various federal agencies and Hill staffers, including aides of Sens. Joseph Lieberman (search), D-Conn., and Sam Brownback (search), R-Kan.

Both Lieberman and Brownback have taken Hollywood to task for packing programs with violence, nudity and other material they consider to be unnecessary evils.

In an e-mail to Foxnews.com, Brownback said the entertainment industry has "fought hard" to discredit concerns about the effects media have on children, and he sounded a note of encouragement for the group's efforts.

"The work of Act One has the potential to change all of this ... for they are not only willing to listen to these concerns, but also to do something about them," said Brownback, who has held committee hearings on the effect of media on children. "Through their efforts, we may finally see some improvement in the products coming out of the entertainment field."

But some Hollywood corners say they do put out wholesome entertainment, despite what Congress says.

"We've always had a tradition of family-oriented shows with strong moral values," said WB spokesman Brad Turrell, pointing to shows such as 7th Heaven, Everwood and Gilmore Girls. "We think strong moral values within programming is something that the public does want and people will watch."

Turrell would not comment whether congressional criticism of television and movies was fair or not, but said Hollywood's first priority was to find talent — whether Christian-oriented or not

"First you have to find talent — you can't just find someone with a point of view," he said. "I think that talent wins out at the end of the day."

Act One members say they want to encourage the next generation of Christians to seek out jobs in Hollywood, which traditionally has been a very cold place for the religious. They also want Congress to offer funding for its training program.

"What we are looking for is to change the tone coming out of Washington to acknowledge some of the benefits of the entertainment industry ... and to find the good and praise the good," said Batali.

Act One also wants to discourage Christians, and others wanting more morally centered entertainment, from simply boycotting Hollywood products altogether.

"We want people actively engaged in culture, not running away and calling it names," Schroeder said.

"A lot of times, those who are active in culture renewal tend to promote walkouts and boycotts and separate subcultures," said Erik Lokkesmoe of The Voice Behind (search), the faith-based group that organized Act One's Washington trip.

Act One participants are "transforming the industry from the inside out ... working within the industry to bring better stories to the culture," he added.

Batali, who also wrote for the WB's Buffy the Vampire Slayer and served as co-producer on ABC's Fantasy Island, among other shows, pitches storylines for That '70s Show dealing with issues such as how a family deals with a teen who no longer wants to go to church. He also tries to steer stories away from negative portrayals of Christians or the church.

"Our show is sex, drugs and rock and roll," Batali said. "I just try to write jokes that are about things other than that. Fewer sex jokes and less caustic humor.

"I just try not to compromise, day to day, what I believe in."