Gospel artists continue to cash in on reality TV with new shows bowing from major cable TV networks this fall and in 2015.
Mary Mary’s We TV hit faith-based reality show scored high ratings when it debuted in 2012. Since that time, other major cable networks such as BET, Bravo TV, Oxygen and the Game Show Network have followed suit with their own faith-based reality TV shows. With the addition Oxygen’s new shows Fix My Choir and Preachers of Detroit, the crop of gospel reality TV shows keeps growing.
According to the Detroit Free Press, Oxygen network will launch Preachers of Detroit, a spin off of its hit gospel reality show Preachers of L.A. in the winter 2015. Oxygen’s Fix My Choir will premiere on Oxygen on November 5, 2014.
The show features Preachers of L.A.’s Deitrick Haddon and Destiny Child’s Michelle Williams as hosts. The two professional singers will help vocally challenged church choirs improve their singing and choreography.
Alvin Williams, President of Atlanta based A. Williams Entertainment, Consultant, and former Senior Director of Music, Talent and Acquisitions at Uplifting Entertainment (formerly Gospel Music Channel) said the cable networks have joined the gospel reality TV bandwagon because of low production costs and the ratings success of gospel reality shows like Mary Mary, Preachers of L.A., Thicker Than Water (Bravo TV), It Takes A Church (Game Show Network) and Sunday Best (BET).
While the gospel stars of reality TV and the networks may be celebrating the success of these shows, there are others who view gospel artists cashing in on reality TV as the networks’ exploitation of the stars and their Christian audience.
Williams said, “Hollywood is in the copycat business…they will try to find the next Tyler Perry or try to find an individual who they think is in the faith based community just to exploit what’s going on so they can make money.”
Williams said he is all for Gospel artists expanding their brand. However, he also believes that executives at major cable television and movie studios who are producing faith-based entertainment shows and films are not a part of the faith-based community. He said, “Often or not they are not affiliated with any faith, let alone Christianity. They do not have an understanding of Christianity…they are just listening to a consultant that they look to as the faith-based expert. Then they are going to put a faith based show and add “reality TV” in this conversation in the same model that they do a general market show.”
Willie Moore, Jr., host of syndicated Christian TV show, Flatout TV (JUCE TV/TBN) chimed in, “Whenever you are doing anything with networks, they are looking at numbers. The moment that you realize there’s a market that’s not as risky and you can get longevity out of these people and you continue to push, push, I believe they’ll continue to invest money in faith based film and Television entertainment.”
Faith-based shows are often caught up in the controversy of making money versus saving souls. Williams said there is no faith in reality TV. “In my opinion, a faith based show is where you’re delivering a biblical message that’s going to edify viewers on the word of God, directly or indirectly. Just because it has faith-based talent doesn’t mean it’s faith based programming.” However, he does praise shows like Mary Mary and Rev. Run’s House for having “teachable moments” that enlighten the audience.
According to Williams, major cable networks are using faith-based reality television shows to build their networks and create revenue for future scripted television shows. He cites as an example, the way the CW network and UPN used African American shows in the 1990s such as In Living Color and Martin to build those networks.
On the other hand, Williams said there are Christian owned and operated companies sensitive to their Christian audience that are making faith-based films, including Tyscot Music and Entertainment and Trinity Broadcasting Network that may not make it to the big screen but are still making profits under Hollywood’s radar.
With the return of Thicker Than Water, American Bible Challenge (GSN), Mary Mary, It Takes A Church (GSN), Sunday Best and Mary Mary to their respective networks for the 2014-2015 season, and new shows like Fix My Choir and Preachers of Detroit set to launch, the crop of gospel reality TV keeps on growing.