By Stephen Winzenburg
Associate Professor of Communication
Grand View College
Copyright 2002

Easter has become the most overlooked holy day on the secular television screen. Last year the holiday was completely ignored by the major broadcast networks and avoided by most cable networks. Instead, television programmers chose to run anti-Christian and Satanic-themed material during Holy Week.

Religious holidays have traditionally been the time when television networks have set aside a few hours to air movies and specials that attract the large number of Christian viewers. For example, during the week before Christmas last year stations ran 835 hours of holiday-themed television programs. While 90% of that was secular, three percent dealt with the birth of Christ.

Easter, however, is a different story. Of the 100 non-religious networks monitored over the eight-day 2002 Holy Week from Palm Sunday to Easter, less than one percent of the programs had to do with Jesus. Of the over 1900 hours broadcast that week, only 100 hours contained any type of spiritual theme and only 14 hours dealt with Jesus. The major broadcast networks aired no Easter shows and on cable only The History Channel and The Discovery Channel programmed material about Christ.

Jesus received less television time at Easter than Judaism, religious con men, and even the devil himself! During the 2002 Holy Week, only two films about Christ aired while there were no less than ten movies dealing with Satanism and three movies about Bible-toting con men. Meanwhile Jews celebrating Passover were able to watch A & E Biography episodes on four historical Jewish Biblical figures, a couple of cable films about Jews struggling with their faith, and Nickelodeon’s Rugrats at Seder.

The major broadcast networks virtually ignored Christianity in their entertainment programming during Easter week. ABC used Easter Sunday for another 4 hour-and-45 minute airing of The Ten Commandments, but it’s time Christians sent a message to the network that something from the New Testament would be more appropriate on the day Christ’s resurrection is celebrated. Even traditional Christian favorite Touched by an Angel wasn’t broadcast on CBS over Easter weekend due to the NCAA Final Four! The large number of viewers who celebrate Easter as a Holy Day should request that the major networks televise at least something during Easter that has a Christian theme.

Christians looking to television for spiritual programming will need to subscribe to satellite or cable. In addition to religious channels, pay and basic non-religious cable networks were the only sources of quality Easter programming during Holy Week. The History Channel ran the Jesus of Nazareth mini-series and documentaries on the Twelve Apostles, Mary, Peter and Paul. The Discovery Channel had 12 hours of specials on Easter Sunday that covered Jesus, the stigmata, Moses, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and near-death experiences. A & E’s Biography included a Holy Week episode on Mary Magdalene.

Films featuring Christian themes appeared on a handful of cable networks that week. The Oscar-winning Chariots of Fire was aired early on Palm Sunday morning by Encore and then on the day before Easter on the little-seen Sundance Channel. Showtime aired The Mission, while Lifetime selected some lighter faith-themed films for Easter Sunday, such as a made-for-TV movie that featured Della Reese as the struggling wife of a recently deceased pastor.

The Travel Channel joined in the spirit of Holy Week with specials about Jerusalem, the Holy Land, and “Where Easter Began.” Even the Food Network had “Great Feasts of the Bible” and Easter cooking programs.

Some networks broadcast inappropriate Easter-weekend selections, such as VH-1’s airing of Michael Jackson’s “Ghost” or The X-Files episode “The Jersey Devil.” Movie channels provided 25 films with spiritual content, but only one-third had Christian themes. The others included movies about the devil, such as Good Friday airings of Rosemary’s Baby and the Omen series.

Most surprising was the omission of any of the traditional films about Jesus. Where was The Greatest Story Ever Told or King of Kings? Even the contemporary but incomplete stories of Christ, such as Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar, air on movie networks at other times of the year and could have aired Easter week. One would think the programmers would take advantage of the holiday to air appropriately-themed movies instead of focusing on the devil.

Easter-themed movies and specials may have been a hard sell in 2002. There was competition from the Academy Awards on Palm Sunday and the NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship plus the opening of the baseball season on Easter Sunday. Add to that the fact that it was Final Four weekend for NCAA Men’s Basketball and it’s apparent why sports got more air time over the Easter holiday than did spiritual programming.

The fact is every major broadcast network and ninety percent of the non-religious cable networks aired no programming about Jesus at Easter. The lack of outrage by Christian viewers either means that Americans are satisfied to keep their faith separate from their viewing habits or that they have given up any expectations that secular television acknowledge Christianity. Christians should encourage secular broadcast networks to not ignore the true meaning of Holy Week and should praise those rare cable networks that include programming about Jesus during the Easter season.

Stephen Winzenburg is a communication professor at Grand View College in Des Moines and has spent over 20 years researching religion and media. Many of his studies are available online at

1,920 hours studied on 100 non-religious networks
Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday
SATAN 28 hours
JESUS 14 hours
JUDAISM 14 hours
• Network broadcast TV aired no Christian-themed programming during the week before Easter
On cable only two movies about Jesus aired during Easter week while ten movies aired about Satanism and three movies about religious con men
Almost all of the TV time devoted to Jesus came from two networks: The History Channel and The Discovery Channel