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The American Bible Challenge is back for a third season, and this year Game Show Network is giving it a companion, It Takes a Church, a new dating show. Game Show Network (channels 103 and 689 on Buckeye CableSystem) is extending its audience of 80 million subscribers by stepping away from a secular grounding.
“The faith-based audience was criminally under-served by mainstream Hollywood,” said Dave Schiff, senior vice president of programming at GSN. In network research from when the Bible quiz show was first pitched to GSN, viewers with a sacred orientation overlapped with more traditional game-show watchers, Mr. Schiff said. The American Bible Challenge “respected the faith-based audience,” he said, and “showed that Christianity can be fun and entertaining, as well.”
Though the shows have a biblical base, “We don't really promote religion; it's not about Christianity per se,” Mr. Schiff said. “Whether you believe in the Bible or not, nobody can deny what an influential book it is.”
With It Takes a Church, GSN has a show that approaches “church as a community,” Mr. Schiff said, “and what it really means to people.” Premiering Thursday at 9 p.m., the one-hour program capitalizes on the concept that church is a good place to meet a partner. “What better place to set a dating show than where people all want the best for you,” Mr. Schiff said.
It Takes a Church is reality-based, with a different congregation featured each week (Bishop Hezekiah Walker of Love Fellowship Tabernacle in Brooklyn, N.Y., is the pastor in one episode) and country singer Natalie Grant is the host. A single member is surprised as the person to be fixed up, and matchmakers in the church each sponsor a candidate.
The congregation votes on the top three prospects, and the pastor gets a pick, too. Then some relationship-building activities take place and the matchmakers and pastor narrow the field before two suitors get a trial date with the match — don‘t look for the shenanigans seen on singles hook-up shows. The final choice is up to the parishioner, who at the end of the episode enters the church with the winning date. And the top matchmaker's name is attached to the $10,000 donation producers give to the church.
The American Bible Challenge, Thursdays at 8 p.m. with host comedian Jeff Foxworthy and musician/choir director Kirk Franklin, started its season May 22. It is GSN's highest-rated show both in terms of its demographics and the day-to-day ratings, Mr. Schiff said. Though the challenge covers both testaments of the Bible and tests people on stories, sayings, and the people in the Bible‘s pages, it's also intended to be an informative game: “We want to share knowledge, relatable for the lay viewer.”
For the Bible challenge, that information comes from three teams in competition each hour-long installment, building to a season's champion. The charities for every team get some money, but the grand prize is $100,000. A variety of rounds—picture charades, multiple-choice, quick answers, and so on, make up the format. Contestants can have a hard time distinguishing popular culture from obscure scripture, such as the “Christ or Klingon” category that asks which words are from the Bible and which from Star Trek.
Produced by different companies, the programs have an advertising tie-in with ChristianMingle in common. Every contestant who isn't picked in It Takes a Church gets a year's subscription to the online dating site. The American Bible Challenge has Jeff Foxworthy mingling with the public to get funny responses to Bible questions.
“We are trying to tap into a demographic” of believers, Mr. Schiff said, but “we are, at the end of the day, a television network looking to open a tent as wide as possible.” So for It Takes a Church, “we're pretty blind when it comes to race” and, “down the road,” Mr. Schiff doesn't rule out a same-sex couple. “There are people from all walks of life and all situations out there in the world looking for love,” he said, so divorcees and parents are in the dating pool.
Though Game Show Network likes the religious aspect and audience, Mr. Schiff said that it has to “have a sense of a game to be on GSN.” Watch for confusion among the converted.