Friday, March 23, 2012

Pat Robertson: Foot(ball) in mouth, again

If nothing else, the continued presence of Pat Robertson on the airwaves provides ample material for the more lighthearted posts I prefer to put here on Fridays. Yesterday, the aging (ageless?) evangelical hanger-on offered his prescient commentary on a subject about which he has always been an indisputable expert: the National Football League!

David Fischer at Stand Firm points out just how reckless Robertson's seemingly trite comments are.
Do you suppose it even occurs to Pat that what would “serve [the Broncos] right” would be painful, perhaps disabling, likely career-ending, possibly life-changing, for Peyton Manning? Do you suppose ol’ Pat ever thinks before engaging his mouth? Is it possible to arrange for a permanent power failure just for CBN’s studios in Virginia Beach? Now that would serve him right.
Fischer's sentiments are shared by many, but every time someone expresses the wish that Robertson would just go away (whether via power outage or what have you), I have to bring up this unfortunate piece of information reported several years ago by Ted Olsen at Christianity Today.
Television and televangelism usually work through viewership. A show with few viewers won't stay on the air: On commercial television, no advertisers will buy space. In religious broadcasting, no donations will come in. But Robertson hasn't needed viewers for almost a decade. He has contractual obligations.

Many people have complained about the 700 Club to cable channel ABC Family, which airs it. But ABC Family has no choice. It is obligated under contract to air it. (The FCC may not be able to do anything, either)

In 1988, Robertson sold the Family Network to Fox for $1.9 billion. Not bad, when you consider the channel was originally launched in 1977 through the donations of viewers who had been promised a Christian alternative to "secular" television, then taken public in 1992. CBN got $136 million from the sale. Robertson's Regent University got another $148 million. Robertson personally received $19 million, and the rest went to the Robertson Charitable Remainder Trust, which will fund CBN after Robertson and his wife die.

But the money wasn't the biggest part of the deal: Fox Family was required to air The 700 Club three times a day—and, if Fox sold the network, the obligation to air The 700 Club had to be part of that deal, too.

Cable World reported in 2001 that Robertson turned down hundreds of millions of dollars to renegotiate. Largely due to frustration that the 700 Club had disrupted its programming, Fox sold the network to the Walt Disney Company in 2001 for $3 billion and $2.3 billion in debt. Now ABC Family is obligated to air the program three times a day.