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Now that NBC’s controversial show “The Book of Daniel” is no more, it brings up the question, again: What does a television show look like that is both viable and Christian? Not all spiritual shows are Christian. One of the most successful shows in the history of the medium, “Touched By an Angel,” was a weekly tearjerker that featured angels. But angels are not exclusively Christian, and anyway God’s messengers were closer to Greek Fates, posted at life’s doorways to create an aura of cosmic control and well-being. The show did well in part because it was TV’s version of comfort food.

“TBAA” did, however, focus on human suffering–how to respond to it and God’s role in it. This elemental spiritual question seems to be good for ratings. CBS’s short-lived hit, “Joan of Arcadia,” portrayed a family dealing with a wheelchair-bound brother, among other crises. Often, God expected Joan (and us) to translate her own pain into compassion for others.

With five people with edgy problems and visits from the Other Side, “The Book of Daniel” seemed to pattern itself after HBO’s “Six Feet Under,” which for a time was the most spiritually challenging show on TV. Not coincidentally, perhaps, it was intent on the question of why we suffer and die. So why didn’t “Daniel” fly? NBC’s mistake, apparently, was putting Aidan Quinn in a dog collar. For every “Seventh Heaven,” there are two or three shows starring priests that misfire, including Dan Akroyd’s brief strut on “Soul Man,” and now “Daniel.”

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