WNET will end production of ‘Religion & Ethics’

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Bob Abernathy, left, speaks with Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, author of 60 books on ethics, theology, prayer and mysticism. (Photo: Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly)

Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, the long-running public television program about religion and spirituality, will broadcast its final episode in February 2017.

Producing station WNET made the decision in response to declining primary-channel carriage as stations shifted the program to multicast channels with fewer viewers, said WNET spokesperson Donna Williams. Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly content is also available on the multicast World channel.

This season the program aired on 113 primary channels and 380 secondary channels, according to public TV audience analyst TRAC Media Services.

The show premiered in September 1997, founded by veteran NBC News journalist Bob Abernethy, who took a one-year leave from the network in 1984 to study theology and social ethics at Yale Divinity School. Over the years, the show covered religion’s role in politics and issues such as immigration, poverty and health care.

Over more than 1,000 episodes, the nonsectarian series interviewed notables including the Dalai Lama, President Carter and evangelist Billy Graham. The program also made news on its own by fielding five national opinion surveys that examined such issues as the religious landscape post-9/11 and the rise of the religiously unaffiliated.

The show won more than 200 journalism awards. Most recently, it swept the television news magazine religion reporting category at this year’s Religion Newswriters’ Association Awards.

From the first episode, the program has collaborated with the nonprofit newsroom Religion News Service. Jerome Socolovsky, RNS editor-in-chief, said its end leaves a gap in important coverage.

“I think the media landscape will miss this crucial provider of video stories about religion that didn’t favor one or the other but gave viewers a full perspective on religious news developments — which we now know are extremely important” in many international events, he said.

Socolovsky said the show’s team, including Abernethy, Executive Producer Arnold Labaton and Managing Editor Kim Lawton, is “one of the keys to its success. Not that many people have such deep knowledge of television, religion and journalism. And those are definitely three who did.”

WNET will continue to provide the program’s archives online. The website includes transcripts, videos, articles and other resources.

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