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Book of Daniel

Book of Daniel


After executive producing the television shows of caustic comedians like Wanda Sykes and Christopher Titus, openly gay writer Jack Kenny turned his acerbic pen to religion and created The Book of Daniel, a comedy-drama about Rev. Daniel Webster, a Vicodin-addicted Episcopalian who talks to Jesus. Webster's brood puts the fun in dysfunctional, with a semicloseted gay Republican son, a teenage daughter hawking marijuana, and a bisexual sister-in-law starting an affair with a woman who may be a murderer. This mixture of religion, sexuality, and drugs has caught the ire of the antigay American Family Association, which is urging its followers to send protest letters to the show's network, NBC. In the following interview, Kenny tells The Advocate the best way to shut the AFA up.

With a show that includes churchgoing folk performing copious amounts of illicit behavior, were you prepared for a negative reaction from conservative groups? I can't say I was not prepared, but it doesn't really factor into anything I'm thinking about; I'm just a storyteller.

How can gay and lesbian fans help stop the AFA's efforts to silence the show? I think [the AFA's petition] is a bullying tactic that no one pays much attention to. If you grew up gay in the '70s, like I did, you're familiar [with it]. The best thing is to ignore them or make them laugh.

On the AFA Web site, the group seems to take the most offense to the "unconventional, white-robed, bearded" Jesus character that speaks to reverend Webster. Did you see that coming? It's a contradiction in terms; isn't that the most conventional version of Jesus there is, white-robed and bearded?

Jesus is Daniel's best friend in this show. I always believed you should have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and I always thought if I did have one, he'd be someone without judgment or finger-wagging.

Do you believe that the church is conflicted because it can't reconcile its teachings with the foibles and realities of 21st-century Americans? I think every church is going through that. The Episcopal Church in particular is having difficulty. The U.S. Episcopal Church is quite liberal, but there are a few stray churches that are very conservative and threatening to schism. This was bound to come up in the [show's] story. I'm hoping down the line Peter [Daniel Webster's gay son, played by Christian Campbell] will want to get married in the church and have his father perform the ceremony. That's bound to be a problem.

What has been the network's reaction to the show? I got really lucky with NBC and Kevin Reilly [the network's president of entertainment]. They both completely got the show. I gave it to Kevin as a spec script, and within a week he bought it and wanted to make it. I asked, "All the stuff about the gay characters and Jesus and Vicodin and selling marijuana is OK?" and he said, "Yeah, that's fine." I've never got any notes from the studio or the network tempering it.

Were you raised in a religious family? Is the gay male character based on you or anyone you know? Peter is more based on Michael [Kenny's partner of 23 years] than me. In the beginning of our relationship, Michael was uncomfortable with public displays of affection and nervous about what his family thought. I was raised in what I like to call "the '60s Catholic family." We went to church every Sunday, but Dad always ended up sneaking outside to smoke cigarettes.

With its controversial nature, The Book of Daniel seems tailor-made for big-city audiences. Are you expecting the show to be embraced by Middle America as well? That's funny--I was thinking it was more a red-state show. It's so much about family and real family values, about loving and supporting each other no matter what we're all going through.

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