Aidan Quinn
defends The
Book of Daniel

"I think it's a
pretty down-the-middle, wholesome show," says Aidan
Quinn, referring to his new NBC series, The B
ook of Daniel. "I honestly don't think it's
going to be nearly as controversial as some people may now
be afraid of," he declares. "It just has the courage
to deal with some of the real issues that go on in
people's lives."

Like, for
instance? Quinn laughs as he recites a litany. "Well, I'm
an Episcopalian priest who struggles with a little
self-medication problem, and I have a 23-year-old son
who's gay, and a 16-year-old daughter who's caught
dealing pot, and another son who's jumping on every
high school girl he sees, and a wife who's very loving but
also likes her martinis. I can't tell you how many
people have said to me, 'Hey, that sounds like my

Don't forget the
Reverend Daniel Webster's recent cruel loss of another
son to leukemia. Or the kooky extended family that, among
other things, is about to put Daniel's priesthood (and
parish) in jeopardy by forcing him into business with
the mob. Or the fact that he has regular visions of,
and frequent conversations with, a flesh-and-blood Jesus

Is this like your
family? Viewers can soon find out. On January 6, The
Book of Daniel premieres with back-to-back
episodes from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m., before claiming its regular
10 p.m. slot the following week. Between now and then, TV
congregants can eagerly await—or brace
themselves for—a comedic drama that might be
described as 7th Heaven meets Desperate
. Its initial eight-episode run throws a
host of curves at the Webster clan while Daniel munches
Vicodin to ease his pressures and doubts.

Does this demean
a man of God? Not a bit, says the 46-year-old Quinn,
who, Chicago-born and of Irish descent, has taken the vows
for his first series after a diverse career in
made-for-TV movies, theater, and feature films
(including Legends of the Fall and Michael
). Diverse? He's surely the only actor
whose credits include Paul McCartney, Benedict Arnold, and
Robinson Crusoe.

Now Quinn plays a
priest who must be taken on his own human terms—a
good man who wants to do right by his family and
flock, keep up necessary appearances, and cleanse his
soul. "He is caught up in the modern malady of extreme
busyness and stress," Quinn says. "But he can have
moments of great lucidity and humor, and he cherishes his
moments of quiet in the church, and in prayer."

Communing with
his inner self takes the form of those
tête-à-têtes with Jesus—a
loving, good-humored comrade whose robes-and-beard style
stands apart in the starchy, posh suburb just outside
New York City where The
Book of Daniel is set. Jesus is demonstrably
there for Daniel—but delivers no easy answers even
when, in a frequent state of befuddlement, Daniel
seeks them. "You know it doesn't work that way," Jesus
reminds him. "Yeah," Daniel sighs. "I just don't know

Savior-as-therapist Jesus is played by Garret Dillahunt
(whose credits include Deadwood as well as a
gay character on Showtime's Leap Years,
currently being rerun on Logo). The series also stars
Susanna Thompson (Once and Again) as the reverend's
wife, Judith, plus Christian Campbell (Trick),
Alison Pill (Pieces of April), and Ivan Shaw
(All My Children) as the couple's three children.

You might say The
Book of Daniel is the gospel according to Jack
Kenny, an unlikely auteur considering his
résumé: executive producer of the comedy series
Wanda at Large, creator of Titus, producer
of Caroline in the City, and staff writer on
Dave's World. But looking to move toward drama,
he wrote a pilot script for The
Book of Daniel on spec, "in hopes I could get
in some doors. Then it took on a life of its own."

A gay man raised
in the Catholic Church, Kenny says he drew on the Waspy,
emotionally guarded family of his life partner. "Michael,"
he says of his mate, with a dramatist's relish, "came
from a world that is all about what is not
said—the hidden meaning in the words and
sentences." Declaring he has never seen 7th Heaven or
Joan of Arcadia (a drama that had God
revealing himself to a high school girl in a variety
of human visions), Kenny insists his show isn't about
religion. "This is about a family," he says between bites
during a hasty lunch break at the Queens studio where
the series is shot. "The fact that Daniel is a priest
is secondary. The church is the backdrop. This is no
more about religion than Six Feet Under was
about mortuaries."

But pray tell,
doesn't saddling a priest with all those dicey
tribulations risk putting off the audience in a way that a
similarly plagued plumber or stockbroker wouldn't?
"Daniel faces the same relatable problems that every
father has to deal with," says Kenny. "And if the
problems seem heightened because of what he does for a
living, then that just raises the stakes. And that makes
better drama." (Frazier Moore, AP)

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