Megachurch pastor and televangelist Joel Osteen, who is no stranger to the camera, will step his exposure up a notch by starring a new reality show. Osteen has tapped Mark Burnett, the producer of Survivor, to help develop the program, which Osteen hopes to pitch “for prime-time play,” the Houston Chronicle’s Kate Shellnutt reported.
TMZ broke the news of the collaboration on Tuesday. To many Americans, the Joel and Victoria Osteen are already familiar faces—each week, some ten million people tune in to their church services, filmed in the 16,000-seat Lakewood Church in Houston’s former Compaq Center (a.k.a the Summit to all the real Houstonians out there).
As for the show’s concept? Osteen told the Chronicle that he hopes to pluck several hundred people from his congregation and film them participating in short mission trips around the country. No word on whether part of the series will be devoted to people getting lost inside Lakewood Church’s many hallways.
Entertainment Weekly’s James Hibberd had some more details about the show, which has the working title Pack Your Bags, on the magazine’s Inside TV blog:
In each episode, the popular Houston megachurch pastor will lead volunteers to a surprise destination to try and make a difference in other people’s lives. For example: To put on a homecoming party for a group of soldiers returning from oversees to their hometown, or bringing holiday cheer to an elderly care home. “You get on plane, you don’t know where you’re going, you don’t know what you’re going to be doing,” Burnett says.
In this tough economic climate, people are craving kinder reality television, according to Burnett, who said “People are genuinely hurting. The last thing the audience wants to see is people ripped apart.”
“We know that the finished product will not only entertain but will illustrate the generosity and selflessness that is a hallmark of the American people,” Osteen said in a statement.
Osteen’s move is a smart one, according to Diane Winston, USC’s Knight Chair in Media and Religion. “The genius of evangelicalism is to use whatever media is most popular at the time, and now they can exploit reality TV for their message,” Winston told the Chronicle.
If the Pack Your Bags pitch doesn’t stick, the Houston Press’s Richard Connelly has six more suggestions for Joel and Victoria to consider, including “Real Housewives of Lakewood: The claws are out as five stiff-haired, expensively dressed women spend no time thinking about Christian theology in any but the most vague way, albeit one that emphasizes financial success.”