TERRE HAUTE, Ind. – Citing viewer complaints, eight NBC affiliate stations won't air a new series by the network about an Episcopalian priest with a troubled family in which Jesus Christ is one of the characters.
KBTV in Beaumont, Texas, and WGBC in Meridian, Miss., were the latest stations to reject "The Book of Daniel," in advance of its two-hour premiere Friday at 9 p.m. EST.
They join WTWO-TV in Terre Haute, Ind., KARK-TV in Little Rock, Ark., KNSW-TV in Wichita, Kan., KSNG-TV in Garden City, Kan., KSNC-TV in Great Bend, Kan., and KSNK-TV in Oberlin, Kan., in refusing to run the series. NBC has 230 affiliates nationally.
In Little Rock, the WB affiliate has arranged to air the drama instead.
The show stars Aidan Quinn as the priest who speaks to a physical Jesus Christ. Quinn's character, the Rev. Daniel Webster, abuses painkillers and has a gay son, a promiscuous straight son, a daughter who deals marijuana, and a wife who drinks too much.
Conservative Christian groups have condemned the depiction of Jesus as blasphemous, accusing the writers of portraying Christ as tolerant of sin in talks with the priest.
"After careful consideration, watching the program and most importantly listening to our viewers and engaging them in dialogue, we have decided not to air the NBC program 'The Book of Daniel' this Friday night," KARK-TV says on its Web site. "We appreciate hearing from so many of our viewers who expressed their heartfelt opinions on both sides of the issue."
Duane Lammers, WTWO-TV's general manager, said he was exercising the station's right to reject network programming.
"If my action causes people in our community to pay more attention to what they watch on television, I have accomplished my mission," he said in a statement posted on the station's Web site.
WTWO was the first of the affiliates to make the decision not to air "The Book of Daniel," followed by KARK on Thursday and KNSW, KSNG, KSNC, KSNK, KBTV and WGBC on Friday.
Quinn's character, Webster, discusses his many troubles in regular chats with a robe-wearing, bearded Jesus. The American Family Association, in Tupelo, Miss., and Focus on the Family, the Colorado Springs group led by James Dobson, are asking supporters to lobby their local NBC affiliate to drop "The Book of Daniel."
"We expect other affiliates to turn down the show," said the AFA's chairman, Donald E. Wildmon, in a statement Thursday. The group claims the network has gotten 600,000 e-mails protesting the series.
In a statement Thursday, NBC said, "We're confident that once audiences view this quality drama themselves, they'll appreciate this thought-provoking examination of one American family."
NBC Entertainment President Kevin Reilly told The New York Times last month that "some of the best shows on TV start with the perception of controversy, which is usually not an issue if it's backed by quality."
In an interview with The Associated Press, Quinn characterized the program as "down-the-middle" and "wholesome," in spite of the fact that his character's children are dealing with issues ranging from homosexuality to drug problems.
"I honestly don't think it's going to be nearly as controversial as some people may now be afraid of," the actor said last week. "It just has the courage to deal with some of the real issues that go on in people's lives."
But the American Family Association said the series was another sign of NBC's "anti-Christian bigotry." Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, an anti-defamation group, called the series the "work of an embittered ex-Catholic homosexual."
The show's creator and executive producer, Jack Kenny, said he drew on the emotionally guarded family of his male partner for the series. He said his goal was to depict how "humor and grace" help a flawed man struggle with his faith and family. He said the writers never meant to mock religion or Jesus.
Bob Waliszewski, of Focus on the Family's teen ministries, disagreed, saying the show portrayed Christ as a "namby-pamby frat boy who basically winks at every sin and perversity under the sun."
"When the pastor's teen son is sexually active and having many romps with his 15-year-old girlfriend, this Jesus says, 'A kid has to be a kid,'" Waliszewski said. "I don't think NBC would have portrayed a Muslim cleric or a Buddhist monk, the Dalai Lama, in a show this way. Why? Because they know to do so would be mean-spirited and insensitive."
James Naughton, a spokesman for the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, D.C., said a California Episcopal church is advising the series.
Naughton has read scripts for eight episodes and acknowledged that viewers could take away a troubling message about people of faith, instead of a positive one about overcoming temptation.
Still, he said it was "a tremendous opportunity for evangelism for Episcopalians." The Washington Diocese has started a blog to comment on the show and invite discussion.
"To me, this is good for us no matter how it comes out because if people are talking about what Episcopalians are like, it creates tremendous opportunities for us to say, `Here's what we actually are like,'" Naughton said.
FOX News' Catherine Donaldson-Evans and The Associated Press contributed to this report.