When the Brooklyn, N.Y., Diocese decided to launch a new faith-based cable TV channel to replace their Prayer Channel, they had no trouble with the name: New Evangelization Television (NET-TV).
“I have to start by thanking our late Holy Father John Paul II,” says the station’s general manager, Christopher Quinn. “We built a channel on the name he chose.” From the get-go, Quinn was inspired by John Paul II’s directive: “I sense the moment has come to commit all the Church’s energies to the New Evangelization.”
Besides, Brooklyn Bishop Nicholas DeMarzio has stated two personal goals that NET-TV also adopted: to be present to the people and to implement the New Evangelization for his diocese. Launched in December 2008, NET-TV is fulfilling both goals with its 24/7 programming on two of the area’s cable channels plus live and on-demand Internet viewing.
While the station broadcasts daily Mass from the Cathedral of St. James and the Rosary several times a day, it also carries an array of programming.
Among the lineup of series is the highly watched “Currents,” the first-ever Catholic daily news show; “Mysteries of the Church,” the second most-popular series; “iCTHuS.eQ” for youth, with contemporary Christian music videos (many local) and interviews with Catholic musicians; “Classic Cinema,” with family-friendly, faith-based movies; children’s shows like “BJ Teddy Bear Club and Bible Stories” and “Cherub Wings”; and local shows that explore New York’s churches, food, culture and neighborhoods. The streets of New York are one of NET-TV’s “studios.”
‘Fresh Way to Evangelize’
Quinn explains the rationale for this eclectic programming: “Jesus reached out to prostitutes, so this is our way to go to those who are disenfranchised.” Quinn calls the overall approach the same Gospel, “but put it in a new, fresh way to evangelize.”
Viewers like Diane Dobry of New York City see the benefit. A doctoral student at Columbia University’s Teachers College, she watches shows like “Miracles, Angels, and Afterlife” because of her interest in that area. Plus, she finds, it’s easy to understand. “Here’s where you can find out the answers,” she says.
The same goes for “Mysteries of the Church,” which was nominated for a New York 2010 Emmy award. Dobry found the episode on exorcism highly informative.
“Mysteries of the Church” explores topics like the stigmata, lighting candles, the Rosary and the Eucharist. A former president of NBC put NET in touch with significant polling and focus groups that showed there was a huge interest in these topics.
Quinn says the series is Catechism 101 with a twist. “We make it edgier,” he explains. “We make it a little mysterious. Our host is a British lady with a soft tone that says, ‘We have a mystery to tell you.’”
But there’s no mystery to NET’s foundation: two Church documents, Vatican II’s 1963 Inter Mirifica (Decree on the Media of Social Communications), and the Holy See’s 1971 pastoral instruction Communio et Progressio (The Means of Social Communication). The documents note the importance of encouraging moral development and that a Catholic station should excel in technical perfection and excellence.
According to Msgr. Kieran Harrington, vicar of communications for the Brooklyn Diocese, whose role is “to ensure the doctrinal integrity of the station and to ensure the culture the station is promoting is love for the Church,” NET’s focus is pre-evangelization, confronting cultural topics head-on: being relevant and being faithful to what the Church teaches.
For example, “In the Arena” discusses current events about health care and immigration with guests like George Weigel, Jimmy Akin and contributors to Commonweal and First Things.
The station doesn’t shy away from looking at both sides of a story, yet always makes sure the Church and her message have the last word.
In every case, Msgr. Harrington says, “We’re looking to see where there is God’s grace in the midst of these stories.” Like the Haiti earthquake: “Where do we see God’s grace in this tragedy? Or the scandal of the crimes against God’s children: Where’s God’s grace to be found?”
News Through the Lens of Faith
This is evident in the news show “Currents.”
“It’s the only 30-minute daily Catholic news show in the world,” says Deacon Greg Kandra, the show’s news director. A deacon at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs in Forest Hills, N.Y., Kandra was looking “to combine my ministry with my vocation,” after spending 26 years with CBS News as a writer and producer of “60 Minutes II,” “48 Hours,” and “CBS Evening News With Katie Couric.” Kandra also is a consultant to the communications committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and maintains a blog, The Deacon’s Bench.
“Currents” features “news from around the block and around the world. The news of the day is filtered through the lens of faith,” notes Kandra. “We’re trying to reach all kinds of people, not only Catholics. We’re trying to reach the guy in the vestibule trying to decide whether or not to come in.” A recent topic was the controversy surrounding the placement of pro-life ads about abortion in the New York subway system.
All of this is produced by a small staff. When Kandra was at CBS, there were more than 100 people doing what “Currents” does with 13.
“We’re not a Catholic news show; we’re a news show about Catholics,” notes Kandra. “Our focus is different. We’re not trying to preach. We’re trying to give dynamic, inspiring stories about what’s happening here in the community in regards to faith. That’s what’s inspiring and drawing people.”
Dialoguing with the broader culture is the point, according to Msgr. Harrington: “Our Church is grounded on Christ, and he is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. So we have nothing to be afraid of.”
“We’re on the offensive here,” adds Quinn. “If we can get you to tune into one or two shows, we’ll let Jesus take over from there. We plant and water; ultimately, it’s God’s job to bring you in.”
Put another way, the station has put out into the deep and daily casts the NET.
Staff writer Joseph Pronechen is based in Trumbull, Connecticut.