Monday, December 05, 2005

TV Week: Pat Robertson's TV Pulpit

Alex Ben Block gives some background on Pat Robertson--and why he continues to have a presence on the ABC Family Channel: "There is a performer on television whose longevity surpasses even Uncle Miltie's. He isn't a comedian and this is no joke. Despite his increasingly bizarre on-air behavior and frequent outrageous statements, he is able to maintain a powerful daily electronic bully pulpit, reaching more than 90 million U.S. homes and viewers in some 200 other countries.

For 45 years Marion Gordon 'Pat' Robertson has been a TV fixture ministering to his electronic flock while masterminding the creation of a global business empire, the Christian Broadcasting Network, primarily funded by donations from viewers. His flagship show, 'The 700 Club,' seen on ABC Family Channel and other outlets worldwide, brings in millions of dollars in charitable donations and advertising revenue that has financed the creation of a worldwide business empire, made Mr. Robertson wealthy and supported his political agenda.

His daily show gives Mr. Robertson an important platform. 'He has the ability to go on the air and generate calls and letters that can shut down Capitol Hill,' said Andrew Schwartzman of Media Access Project, an advocacy group in Washington. 'You can't put a dollar value on the political clout he's got, and that is the basis of his power.'

Every other program on TV is subject to cancellation if ratings are low. Not 'The 700 Club.' According to sources, while ABC Family averages about 700,000 viewers at any other time of the day, national ratings for 'The 700 Club' are barely detectable and have declined over the past three years.

Much of the millions that the '700 Club' raises is plowed right back into running CBN and producing the show, to raise even more money. As long as '700' has a national TV platform, Mr. Robertson has a perpetual money machine with a rate of return that would make any businessman beam. In part, that is because a lot of funds are funneled through Operation Blessing International, which can take tax-deductible charitable donations. According to its 2004 fiscal year federal filing, Operation Blessing International had total revenues of $186.4 million, of which $91 million went to production and airing of religious radio and TV programming by CBN and affiliates.

Why doesn't Disney/ABC Family just cancel "The 700 Club"? According to a spokesperson, it can't. The contract, she said, "is in perpetuity." The agreement even specifies what time of day the program must air. ABC must provide program time "at cost." The "700 Club" can only be canceled at "the Christian network's option." That is how Mr. Robertson keeps on going and going. "


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