`Angel' Will Start Season with Show on Sudan Slavery: Screening Draws Politicians' Attention

By Duin, Julia | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), September 23, 1999 | Go to article overview

`Angel' Will Start Season with Show on Sudan Slavery: Screening Draws Politicians' Attention


Duin, Julia, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Angels landed on Capitol Hill Tuesday night in an unusual marriage between Hollywood and Washington, in which both parties were patting each other on the back for tackling the most unlikely of prime-time causes: slavery in the Sudan.

CBS-TV's top-rated program, "Touched by an Angel," will move into international politics at 8 p.m. Sunday with a season premiere on the Sudan. An advance screening Tuesday night attracted politicians, their families, various advocacy groups and a who's who of local evangelical Christians packed into a large hearing room in the Dirksen Senate Office Building.

The admiring crowd surrounding Martha Williamson, executive producer of the show, included Sens. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican, Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican, and Mike DeWine, Ohio Republican. Mr. Santorum informed her that "Touched by an Angel" was the only TV show he watches all week.

"You're in our prayers," he promised. Rep. Edward J. Markey, Massachusetts Democrat, also had some inspirational thoughts.

"God bless CBS," he said, as he brushed by a TV official. Someone asked why CBS was getting involved in politics, at a time when several of the members of Congress were pushing Senate Resolution 1453, known as the Sudan Peace Act. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, would greatly expand America's role in the Sudanese civil war.

"The episode is not as political as this press conference," said CBS Senior Vice President Martin Franks. "CBS is not endorsing any legislation." Still, he added, "When you're as successful as Martha is, you're given wide leeway."

Tuesday's reception was a celebration of the drama's success, with Sen. Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican, lauding it as "the most God-oriented show in the history of television."

Despite all the business suits present, the affair had some of the trappings of a Hollywood gala. In the midst of it all stood Irish actress Roma Downey, who plays the red-haired angel Monica. Dressed in a sequined pink dress, an orange shawl and gold slippers, she was surrounded by a receiving line of adoring children and their mothers.

"Hopefully, it will help to increase awareness out there," she told a bystander. "In my own personal circle of friends, people were as ignorant as I was."

A few minutes later, she was speaking before the crowd.

"As a mother myself hearing about the kidnappings, it makes me grateful to be part of a show exposing this atrocity," she said.

Miss Williamson took full advantage of her pulpit to preach against slavery.

"When I heard there was slavery in the Sudan, I stood up and listened," she said. "We've been committed to the message that God exists and God loves you and God wants you to be part of His life . . . I'm sorry to say it took something like slavery to get my attention, but it did."

What also got her attention was a surprise visit by Rep. Frank R. Wolf, Virginia Republican and two congressional staff members while she was relaxing in the Washington Hilton coffee shop one morning last February. Mr. Wolf, who has a habit of visiting human rights nightmares such as East Timor, Chechnya, Tibet and Siberia, had been to the Sudan three times in the past 10 years.

Now he prays for it every night.

Could she, Mr. Wolf asked, introduce on her show the horrendous civil war in the Sudan - and the resulting enslavement of thousands of southern Sudanese children? …

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