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Faith In The Media

As the holiday season heads into high gear, the airwaves fill up with celebratory, feel-good entertainment.

But as The Early Show National Correspondent Hattie Kauffman reports, the mix of religion and media may no longer be a seasonal occurrence.

Once, religion hardly had a prayer in prime time television. Not any more.

For the characters on PAX Network's hit shows "Doc" and "Sue Thomas, FB-Eye," faith is a part of everyday life. Dave Johnson, the producer of the shows, says he's tapping into a long-ignored audience.

"More people probably, on a Sunday, go to church than watch television all week," says Johnson. "It's a huge number."

The numbers are impressive. About 85 percent of Americans call themselves Christians. The growing Christian-entertainment industry generates $3 billon annually.

And breakout successes, such as the recent Veggie Tales' "Jonah" movie, have been able to attract more than just the core religious audience.

"We really needed to prove to Hollywood that there was an audience for our style of storytelling," says Phil Vischer, the creator of Veggie Tales. "You know, even with the values in it, that we could open a film. And that's exactly what we did."

"Jonah" has taken in over $25 million since it was released last month.

"There is an audience, particularly a family audience, looking for ways to pass on biblical values to their kids … and there's a great opportunity there to make films for them," says Vischer.

Peter Lalonde says that Christians need to make films instead of complaining about a lack of movies that teaches their beliefs — changing Hollywood from the inside out.

"We understand the Christian world view and the Christian marketplace and I think that marriage could lead to the largest untapped market in film making history," says Lalonde.

Lalonde's company, Cloud Ten, produces the movie versions of the blockbuster "Left Behind" book series. With three million copies sold, the first film was the best-selling video by an independent studio in 2000. Earlier in November, "Left Behind II: Tribulation Force" entered the video sales charts at No. 2.

"These are stories that people can relate to," says Lalonde. "This is the lens through which they see the world. And for the first time there's films appearing that share that same lens."

As faith-themed media grows, the boundaries of "religious entertainment" are blurring. Christian music brings in a billion dollars annually. But for bands, such as Sixpence None the Richer, success in the religious market is overflowing into mainstream hits on every top-40 radio station in the country.

"Sixpence is just trying to make music for the world, not just for Christians," says Leigh Nash, lead singer of the band. "And when you call yourself a Christian band, that sounds like you're just making music for certain people who believe a certain thing. And that's not what we're into and not what we believe music should be about."

Despite the strides of Christian entertainment, some say there is still a taboo.

"You can do a lot of things on television," says Dave Alan Johnson. "But, if you start talking about Jesus Christ in a television show, people will run out of the room like their hair's on fire. They are so panicked over it."

But if faith-based television shows, films and music continue to generate money, mainstream Hollywood may have no choice but to embrace the religion.