Back when Jack Kenny was a good Catholic boy, he wastaught to develop a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. So when hewrote a TV show about a troubled Episcopal priest, he made Jesus his maincharacter's best friend.

In Kenny's "The Book of Daniel," which NBC just picked up for midseason,Aidan Quinn plays Connecticut-bred Daniel Webster. Daniel is a good ministerand a good man, but that's not always enough to deal with his life. He'saddicted to Vicodin. His wife, Judith, has frozen inside since one of theirsons died of leukemia. His son, Peter, is gay. His daughter, Grace, isdealing marijuana to raise extra cash.

And in moments of great stress, Jesus (played by "Deadwood" alum GarretDillahunt) turns up--in the passenger seat of Daniel's station wagon, inthe bedroom hallway, outside the church--to offer his counsel.

So, yeah, "Book of Daniel" is going to be controversial, and that's evenbefore you consider that Kenny is gay, and that homosexuality and religionhave mixed lately like hair spray and a blow torch.

"I recognize there are going to be people who have an issue with a gayman writing about Jesus," Kenny says at the Television Critics Association'ssummer press tour. He adds, "I'm not making fun of Jesus. I never want topoke fun at religion or at Jesus. These characters are very spiritualpeople. They believe in God, they believe in Christ as their savior, and Ithink that's wonderful."

While his characters are devout, Kenny's own feelings toward Christ andorganized religion are more complicated. He is, as he puts it, "in Catholicrecovery," is interested in Buddhist teachings about reincarnation, and isn'tsure exactly how he defines God and/or Jesus.

"I'm a spiritual person," he says. "I don't know specifically what'sgoing on up there. I think there must be something going on, whether it's anenergy we're all connected to or an old white man with a beard and a robe.

"I do believe in Jesus. I don't necessarily know that all the mythsurrounding him is true, but I read his teachings, and I think he was agreat teacher and a wonderful philosopher. I think he had a great idea:`Love thy neighbor.' There's nothing wrong with that."

Kenny's mother was Cuban and his father Irish Catholic, and they haddifferent commitments to the church. Kenny remembers watching his motherreceive Communion while his father, weary from a childhood of daily Mass,would stand outside smoking a cigarette. In his teens, Kenny found himself drifting from the church, a processaccelerated by the growing realization he was gay.

"Once I got into college, I didn't go anymore," he recalls. "TheCatholic Church is very obviously not accepting of homosexuals, so ifthey're not going to want me in their doors, I don't want to bother themwith it."

Twenty-three years ago, he began a relationship with Michael Goodell,who remains his partner to this day. Kenny was fascinated by Goodell'scontradictory family: emotionally closed-off Republicans who were alsosocially liberal and welcoming to him. He became just as fascinated by theirparticipation in the Episcopal Church, which he found more liberal andtolerant than Catholicism.

Daniel's family was very loosely inspired by Goodell's--"None of themare addicted to Vicodin, but there is a lot of behavior that is exciting tome in that world"--and he has studied them closely to get the Websters'interactions just right.

"This is a real good definition of Episcopalian: Michael once said tohis mother, `God bless you, Mommy,' and she said, `We don't say that. Wedon't proselytize. Just keep that to yourself. Order another martini andkeep it quiet. Don't run around blessing everybody."'

(For details on Daniel's work life, Kenny consults with two ministers atAll Saints Church in Pasadena, an Episcopal parish.)

"He's not really talking to a living Jesus."

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