Bishop Sheen’s TV Debut

Today in 1952 marks the debut of Bishop Fulton J. Sheen’s Emmy award winning television program “Life is Worth Living.” During its five year run, the program had nearly thirty million viewers. The show was placed in the same time slot with Milton Berle, Tuesday at 8:00 p.m., and it wasn’t expected to survive. Berle joked that Sheen “uses old material.” When the bishop wom an Emmy for “Most Outstanding Television Personality,” he thanked “my four writers—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.” A television critic exclaimed, “Bishop Sheen can’t sing, can’t dance, and can’t act. All he is…is sensational.” Charles Morris describes Sheen as the most successful public lecturer in the history of television:

He was elegant, elevated, relaxed, often very funny. Only Jack Benny could top Sheen’s ability to back a punch line—gazing calmly at the camera the entire time. The shows had a precise formula. Sheen, wearing his bishop’s cross, crimson cape and skullcap, would stride into a parlorlike studio, pause, tell a funny story, and then pose the problem for the evening: Are we more neurotic today? How to deal with the rat race? With temptation? With teenagers? What is the nature of love? The meaning of intimacy?… He pulled it off without a hint of sectarianism. The philosophy was very Catholic, but few people would have noticed, and Sheen never mentioned the Church or Catholic doctrine. All at the same time, he managed to be religious, undogmatic, humane and unthreatening. Week after week, the performances were simply brilliant.
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