CatholicTV goes 3D

Network reaches five million homes nationwide

BOSTON -- Avatars and Mad Hatters are already performing before American audiences in 3D, and Shrek is coming soon. Now, a national Catholic television network is throwing priests into the mix.

CatholicTV debuted 3D programs Tuesday in an effort to reach younger people and to make the faith message more vivid. The network posted several 3D shows on the Internet, released its monthly magazine in 3D -- complete with glasses -- and said it will eventually broadcast some programs in 3D.

CatholicTV's director, the Rev. Robert Reed, said he'd been planning to introduce 3D well before the success of James Cameron's movie "Avatar" or the 3D "Alice in Wonderland."

"It's a way for us to show that we believe the message we have is relevant, and we're going to use every possible avenue to bring that message to people," said Reed, whose network reaches 5 million to 6 million homes nationwide through various cable providers.

Stephen Prothero, a religion professor at Boston University, applauded CatholicTV for taking a risk with technology to attract a broader, younger audience. Evangelical Christians are typically far more adept at that outreach, he said.

But if the 3D shows aren't compelling, he said, it could backfire by reinforcing the notion that the Catholic Church is out of touch.

"In some ways, it's better to look like retro 2D than bad 3D," he said. "Hip is a moving target. James Cameron is up more on that than Pope Benedict."

CatholicTV, based in Watertown, Mass., is jumping into 3D in a year when an unprecedented 19 3D movies are scheduled for release, including the latest Shrek sequel. This month, 3D went small screen when Samsung and Panasonic began selling their first 3D television sets for about $3,000 each.

"It's just a hot technology," Reed said. "So I don't see any reason why we shouldn't use it for the purpose of connecting with younger people."

Most of the shows the network converted to 3D had already aired, and its priority was to expose viewers to its range of offerings rather than to elicit any sort of "wow" factor.

"I just think that 3D enhances and accentuates the good work here that is being done," Reed said.

The effect can be hard to detect, particularly in the network's talk-show style programs, which focus on priests bantering. It's more noticeable, for instance, in the filming of the rosary at the National Shrine in Washington, D.C., where the camera closes in on various artworks.

The Rev. Dan O'Connell, host of the two decades-old show "We've Got to Talk," said viewers won't be expecting blue aliens and explosions from Catholic TV, but they will recognize that the network is trying something new.

"If you take notice, you might just stay with the message," he said.

The 3D experience can also reinforce the network's bedrock theological message, O'Connell said.

"It reaches out, it goes from the screen right into the room where you are," he said. "And that's what I think is the bottom line to the message of CatholicTV network, that God reaches out to us constantly."

Angela Zito, director of New York University's Center for Religion and Media, said CatholicTV could distance people by introducing new viewing obstacles, such as the glasses. "People can't even find the remote," Zito said.

But even if the 3D isn't a smash, the church is sending an important message that it intends to keep pace with technology, she said.

"Being willing to bet on 3D technology at the very beginning like this ... to me just shows me you're sitting at the table," Zito said.
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