Could a wholesome television show with evangelical undertones—but without the hard-sell gospel—lure viewers away from “General Hospital” or “60 Minutes”? Pat Robertson and his Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) intend to find out, with programs designed to attract non-Christian as well as Christian viewers from all walks of life.

Posing a prime-time threat to ABC, CBS, and NBC is little more than a distant hope, but CBN’S momentum is unmistakable, attracting widespread notice in broadcast trade publications. By this month CBN will have nudged its way into the industry’s Nielsen ratings by gaining nationwide access to nearly 14 million households able to receive cable television programs.

Their foray into the marketplace began last year with a clean break away from traditional Christian television fare. Like other religious broadcast entities, CBN found itself preaching primarily to the already-converted, and drawing just 2 or 3 percent of the total television viewing audience. Michael Little, executive producer of “The 700 Club,” said the shift to a secular appeal began when CBN strategists asked themselves, “What impact are we really making in response to the Great Commission?”

The answer appeared to be “not much,” so CBN began replacing pulpits and King James English with Johnny Carson-style sofas and soap-opera vernacular. Its anchor show, “The 700 Club,” assumed an upbeat, magazine format, complete with news spots from Washington, D.C. Other programs resemble familiar TV Guide lineups, with a top-quality soap opera, early morning news and chatter, a miniseries on pornography, Wall Street analyses, and entertainment for children. ...

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