Christian Reality TV Arrives on Cable

"The Uprising" follows three skateboarding Christians who preach God's word.

December 4, 2008, 2:31 PM

LOS ANGELES, Dec. 4, 2008— -- Much of reality TV is populated by a "parade of horribles," a pageant of the pathetic.

There are the strung-out addicts from VH1's "CelebrityRehab with Dr. Drew" and A&E's "Intervention," not to mention the wannabes on Fox's mega-hit "American Idol" and on dating shows such as VH1's "Flavor of Love" and MTV's risqué "Double Shot at Love."

Who can stand out within this cacophony? Maybe ... God?

Hoping to buck the bawdy trend, two new Christian reality shows debuted on cable TV in October.

See more about the shows tonight on "Nightline" at 11:35 p.m. ET.

"The Uprising," which launched on the Inspirational Network, features a trio of Christian pro skateboarders who try to convert people on the street. The cast includes Christian Hosoi, who said he got out of prison a few years ago after being locked up for possession of and intent to distribute crystal meth.

During the first episode they talk to a passerby named Quinn, a kid with a flipped-up baseball cap who says he's an atheist. More on him later.

When "Nightline" visited "The Uprising" crew, they tried to convert us, too.

Hosoi was especially impassioned.

"Guarantee this is one of those moments in your life," he said, "that God is reaching out to you, Karson and Dan, and saying, 'You know what? I love you guys and I put you on this assignment not just to get a good article or show, but to really intervene in your life and put up a flag of, hey, you know, I love you.' Jesus is really saying, 'I love you guys and I want to be in your life.'"

Downgrading the Degrading

"I think the difference about our reality show," cast member Jay Haizlip said, "is that a majority of the ones out there are degrading. They all have a huge element of rejection. It's all about elimination. It's all about, 'We don't need you anymore so we're going to dispose of you.'"

He acknowledged that although a little bit of cruelty can be entertaining to viewers, the public might be hungering for a little empathy as well.

"I think there obviously is an element of that, that does appeal to people," Haizlip said. "But I think the thing that is causing our reality show to blow up to the degree that it is, is because there is that part of compassion that is in people, as well, and watching this program is waking that up in them."

But if you're looking for more of the conflict that regular reality TV serves up, check out "Revolve: Rockin' the Road" on the Gospel Music Channel.

It follows four friends -- the cast and crew of a Christian rock festival -- as they travel cross-country in a tour bus, sometimes getting on each other's nerves. While there are some fights, they're reasonably tame: No one reveals a coke habit or a lesbian affair.

During one episode, Courtney Clark Cleveland and Sean Kelly get into an argument over who's supposed to be manning the tent. But, as usual, the conflict ends with a calm, reasoned conversation.

"I hope that [viewers] would watch that and implement that in their own life," Cleveland said.

"It's the way you handle the problems that are going to define your character," said fellow cast member Jenna Lucado. "So I'm hoping that this show shows how you handle problems in life.

Producer William Hamilton used to work on such shows as "Hottest Mom in America," "Strictly Sex with Dr. Drew" and "Punk'd." But he wanted a change.

"I decided to step away from that and created some positive material with the same kind of quality and the same attractiveness as the MTV shows," he said. "And [I] try to put a positive message onto that."

A Way to Evangelize?

"The Uprising" and "Revolve" aren't meant, however, for entertainment only. Both are spreading the word about Christianity.

Charles Humbar, founder and CEO of the Gospel Music Channel, said it can be considered evangelizing.

"I think telling teenagers that there is hope and God loves them -- and if you call that evangelizing, absolutely," he explained. "I think I would question how much 'reality' reality TV is. There may be places that look like that. I'm sure there are. But I think in America and around the world, that you know people want to be better, people want to live good lives, people want to do good things with each other. And I think having a show on there that they can relate to that maybe provides them a different way to view things and be true reality television versus scripted, in the ways some of the shows you're talking about [are]. And I think that's really good.

The new generation of Christian reality shows relies heavily on the conventions of regular reality TV: the confessional interviews, dramatic music and cliffhanging story lines: Will Quinn accept Jesus? Will the surprise party that Courtney is planning for Jenna end up in disaster?

Christian author, professor and screenwriter Craig Detweiler said Christians shouldn't just imitating popular culture. They should lead.

"If you are truly connected to the creator of the universe you should be the most creative and risk-taking people on the planet," he said. "You would be coming up with new ideas and new visions all the time. That's our heritage and hopefully we'll get back to it.

"For hundreds of years, Christians were the patrons of the arts," he added. "You have the renaissance that resulted. ... You had Michelangelo and Leonardo DaVinci paid by the church to make masterpieces. And now we we're reduced to pale imitation of the worst elements of pop culture. I rather have us lead a renaissance in the arts instead of imitate those who have gone before us."

"The Uprising" cast member Haizlip said, however, that it's necessary to use any tool possible to spread God's word.

Quinn, the young man Haizlip and others tried to convert during the show, seemed to have heard the message. By the end of the show he'd agreed to pray with the skateboarding trio.

And as for Jenna's birthday surprise: Her boyfriend shows up ... and it's a big hit.

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