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The Trashing Of The Christ

Contrasts In Media Treatment of The DaVinci Code and The Passion

1. The DaVinci Code received an enormous publicity push from the broadcast networks.

In the year before its cinematic release, The DaVinci Code attracted 99 segments on network news shows, compared to 66 for The Passion. Most of those came on morning shows. By far, the biggest Code promoter was NBC’s Today, which provided more stories (38) than the other two network morning shows combined (29). By contrast, NBC was third-place in Passion segments (11).

Chart2Overall, NBC led in total stories with 52, followed by ABC with 26, and CBS with 21. There were 16 evening news stories: ABC’s World News Tonight aired five, the CBS Evening News ran six, and the NBC Nightly News aired five. Two of NBC’s stories and one of ABC’s were brief anchor-read items.

There were 67 segments on the morning shows alone: 38 stories on NBC’s Today, 15 on ABC’s Good Morning America, 13 on CBS’s The Early Show, and one on CBS’s Sunday Morning. Five NBC stories, three CBS stories and one ABC story were brief, anchor-read items.

There were 16 segments on the prime-time and late-night magazine/interview programs. ABC’s Nightline carried six segments, NBC’s Dateline aired nine, and CBS’s 60 Minutes aired one.

Chart1By contrast, The Passion of the Christ drew 11 evening-news stories through the end of February 2004. On the morning shows, The Passion drew 40 segments (just three of them anchor briefs), 16 on ABC to 13 on CBS and 11 on NBC. So while the NBC contrast on the morning news programs was large – 38 to 11, ABC (15) and CBS (14) carried almost the same amount of morning news coverage on both films.

The Passion of the Christ attracted 15 magazine/interview segments: an entire hour of Primetime, an entire hour of Dateline, and a Nightline. It also drew a controversial 60 Minutes commentary by Andy Rooney in which he joked God spoke to him and God called Mel Gibson "a real nut case."

It should be noted that not every story on The DaVinci Code in this year-long study dealt explicitly with the movie. Sometimes, The DaVinci Code was not just the movie, and not just the book, but sort of blurred together into a fad, a craze.

These numbers for The DaVinci Code do not include all of the casual mentions in passing, and all of the promotional verbiage leading up to these segments. NBC’s Today often had three, four, even five "coming up" messages in a show, all with the words "The DaVinci Code" in them. If Doubleday or Sony Pictures had paid for the advertising time the networks provided for free, it would have been a hefty bill.

These numbers also do not include the network coverage that’s emerged from first buzz on the book version emerged in June 2003, through May of 2005. Most notably, that publicity would include a one-hour Primetime special by ABC anchor Elizabeth Vargas which softly recounted tthe Code’s "legends" without much opposition on November 3, 2003 and again on August 4, 2004. NBC’s Dateline also aired an hour-long DaVinci Code special on April 10, 2005, which spun the legends for 50 minutes, and then allowed experts to debunk it for five minutes at the end. It replayed within the study period on June 25, 2005.

It could also be added that even large-budget studio movies often failed to get a fraction of the buzz the networks gave The DaVinci Code. Consider some examples. On ABC’s Good Morning America in 2005, King Kong drew only three brief mentions in passing before it debuted in mid-December. So far in 2006, Dead Man’s Chest, the sequel to the smash summer hit Pirates of the Caribbean – filmed by Disney, the parent company of ABC – has only been mentioned once, and it debuts on July 7.

Or the same glance can be directed at Universal Pictures, now part of the NBC conglomerate. The DaVinci Code has drawn much greater interest from NBC’s Today than the sister company’s releases recently: three for Spike Lee’s The Inside Man, one segment on the Bush-mocking American Dreamz, and zero on Curious George. Perhaps a movie needs to have some real-world import, some blend of fact and fiction, to generate high interest from the news media? Surprisingly, Today only had five segments on United 93, the film re-enacting the actual 9-11 hijacking of the airplane that crashed in a field in Pennsylvania instead of its intended target in Washington. The passion for The DaVinci Code is obvious.