Thursday, May 03, 2007

PBS Reports "The Mormons" Documentary Breaks Ratings Records: Lessons?

Various news outlets in Utah, from television to newspapers such as The Salt Lake Tribune are reporting that the PBS documentary, The Mormons, that aired earlier this week broke ratings records. As the Tribune reported,

[M]ore Utahns tuned into KUED Channel 7 and KBYU Channel 11 for the first episode of "The Mormons" Monday night than watched KJZZ Channel 14 and cable's TNT simulcast of game 5 of the Utah Jazz playoffs. "It's the highest [ratings] we've ever had," said KUED General Manager Larry Smith. "This is very phenomenal and very unusual." He said KUED likely will re-run the series in mid-summer. According to Nielsen Media Research, Monday's episode on the history of the LDS Church drew a 17.9 rating and Tuesday's segment earned a 17.7. Normally, KUED's weekly nighttime ratings are between 1.8 and 2.

The documentary was also the focus of a large audience outside of Utah. As the Tribune continued, "Nationally, the series was also was a relative hit. At a 3 rating, the documentary captured nearly double the viewers of a normal PBS weeknight, said KBYU spokesman Jim Bell."

As might be expected, reaction to the documentary has been mixed on both sides of the LDS/non-LDS divide with some speaking favorably on it and some negatively. One of the interesting things I find in the large viewing audience was that the program touched on several issues of controversy, such as skepticism concerning Joseph Smith's First Vision, his early involvement with folk magic of the time period, and polygamy, some of the very issues addressed in the Jesus Christ/Joseph Smith apologetic DVD that received mass distribution in Utah and neighboring states. Yet it is likely that far more Latter-day Saints watched The Mormons documentary with an open mind than ever considered the apologetic DVD. This is because the documentary producers interviewed a number of diverse sources, produced the program openly, invited the contribution and perspective of LDS Church leadership as well as rank and file Mormons, and strove for balance in their presentation.

I wonder what lessons evangelical filmmakers might take away from all of this?


Anonymous said...

John, how should high ratings be relevant to either orthodox Christians or believing LDS?

Where was the gospel talked about in the PBS, The Mormons?

John W. Morehead said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John W. Morehead said...

Your questions miss the point of my post completely. To reiterate what I said, many of the issues of concern related to Mormonism were common to both the documentary and the apologetic DVD, but the manner in which they were handled, and the projects in general was handled, were very different. This resulted in differing perceptions and openness in the LDS viewing audiences. Evangelicals might want to consider these factors as they share their concerns and the gospel with LDS. It's a matter of effective communication considerations regardless of whether the gospel was an element in one project and not in another.

I hope this helps clarifiy my position.

Andy said...

So John then is the Gospel secondary to making sure we get acceptance by the LDS people?

John W. Morehead said...

Of course not, Andy, and the fact that you ask such a question demonstrates that you unfortunately don't have a clue as to what the substance of my post was about! Perhaps this is an indicator that at least some of those involved with this project, or at least those supportive of it, were more interested in doing something that made them feel good but without any ability to determine how it would be received by its intended audience from their perspective.