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Audiences Show 'Passion' for Gibson Interview

ABC scored with Mel Gibson (search) and Jesus Christ.

Gibson's first TV interview on the subject of his new controversial movie about Jesus drew 17 million viewers Monday night at 10, according to Nielsen figures released yesterday by ABC.

Diane Sawyer (search) conducted the interview for a special edition of ABC's "Primetime," (search) subtitled "Mel Gibson's Passion."

The numbers should be enough to land this edition of "Primetime" among the top 20 highest-rated shows of the week. They also indicate a strong appetite for the subject of Christ, especially as it pertains to the firestorm surrounding Gibson's movie, "The Passion of the Christ."

The movie, which Gibson directed and produced, is scheduled to open in one week, on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 25.

It's a graphic depiction of the bloody final hours of Jesus' life based on biblical accounts. For months, the movie has drawn accusations of anti-Semitism from Jewish groups angered by the movie's depiction of the role of Jews in Christ's crucifixion.

Gibson was last interviewed on the subject in The New Yorker last September and does not appear poised to make the talk-show rounds in the coming week.

His only booking appears to be "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" on Feb. 26, the day after the movie's release.

In the meantime, NBC's "Dateline" will have a full hour Friday night (beginning at 9) on the final days of Christ. The show, anchored by Stone Phillips, uses the movie as a jumping-off point for an in-depth look at what is known and not known about Christ's final days.

The show uses ancient texts, plus interviews with experts who can interpret them, to retrace Christ's activities in the days leading up to his crucifixion.

And Sunday night, Pax TV (Ch. 31) will present Gibson's own documentary about the making of his movie, titled "The Making of 'The Passion of the Christ' " (9-10 p.m.).

The special includes interviews with the movie's cast and crew - including Gibson - although the director does not use the "Making of" special to address the controversy surrounding the film, a Pax spokeswoman said.