Judgement day for 'touched by an angel'

Cal Thomas

5/3/2002 12:00:00 AM - Cal Thomas
May is "sweeps" month, when local television stations do stories on teenage prostitutes and networks crank out specials, along with their usual sex, violence and profanity, believing such programming will boost ratings and advertising revenue. May is also the month during which networks decide which shows to hold over for another season and which to cancel. One of the shows in danger of cancellation is the long-running CBS series, "Touched By An Angel." The program has a large and loyal following, but in recent seasons has been frequently pre-empted by sports and other shows, making it more difficult for fans to follow. The TBAA time slot was changed this season from Sunday night to the less-watched Saturday night schedule. After eight successful seasons, including several that found TBAA in the top 10 most-watched primetime TV programs, CBS may pull the plug on what is possibly the last decent, family-friendly show that doesn't take God's name in vain. In the aftermath of Sept. 11 and the 24/7 coverage of the terrorist attacks, broadcasters fretted over how to return to "normal programming" and which shows to run. NBC cranked out a quickie episode of "West Wing" which mentioned the attacks in the context of a presidential conversation with students. CBS boldly went with "Touched By An Angel," broadcasting three episodes over two days, including a special introduction by the "angels," actors Della Reese, Roma Downey and John Dye, who assured Americans they had nothing to fear because God still loves them. The network is broadcasting two new TBAA episodes this Saturday night, May 4 (see local listings) and a special Sunday night, May 5, featuring Angela Lansbury to see if viewers will continue to support the show. Everyone who's been complaining about bad television has an opportunity to make a powerful and possibly decisive statement by watching all three episodes. USA Today recently asked readers which shows they'd like to see remain on TV and which they want dropped. Results of the survey will be published next week, but initial voting showed "Touched By An Angel" ahead of every other show except "Spin City" in the "keep" category. When TBAA first appeared, cynical TV critics were mostly dismissive, but viewers loved the show. It attracts unusual mail from people who claim their lives have been transformed by the program's message that God loves them and from families thankful they can watch at least one show without having to worry about their beliefs and values being vilified. "Please, please don't ever stop your series," wrote Christine of Colorado in a letter to TBAA producers. "We need this show, especially in the crisis our nation is facing. There is absolutely no other television program that even begins to compare with 'Touched by An Angel'...". Such comments are typical of the unique enthusiasm this show generates. In the beginning, Della Reese prophesied that TBAA would last for 10 seasons. It should. It would be a tragedy if this warm, kind and beautiful program were canceled now, especially when the nation needs hopeful and positive messages. CBS must hear from viewers who not only want TBAA to stay but will watch it in large numbers this weekend and then write or call the network in support (email: audsvcs@CBS.com, phone: 212-975-3247). "Touched By An Angel" has been a prestige program for CBS at a time when that commodity on all networks is in short supply. There's more profanity than ever on TV these days, according to an April 21 story in The Washington Post. A recent rerun of "The Carol Burnett Show" and last Sunday's tribute to 50 years of programs from Television City in Hollywood produced good ratings for CBS. That should tell network brass something because the content of all of those old programs was clean and excellent. Surely CBS can find room to maintain TBAA, which has become an island of decency in an ocean of perversion. If it doesn't, look for more families to participate in the just-concluded "TV-Turnoff Week" campaign, not just for seven days, but for good.