On "The New Jim Bakker Show," the TV evangelist sits beside his perky wife, pleads for money, occasionally cries and closes the show with "God loves you. He really does."
Having watched three hours' worth of this fare, the only differences I could see between the new Jim Bakker show and the old Jim Bakker show are as follows:
He has less hair. He sits beside second wife Lori instead of first wife Tammy Faye. He isn't selling time shares. And the strange electricity that made the old show part of modern American religious lore is gone.
Let me save you the trouble of finding a cable TV station airing Bakker's new venture.
Bakker and his second wife, Lori, have been taping the show from noon to 1 p.m. weekdays at a restaurant in the country music mecca of Branson, Mo. As in his glory days in Fort Mill, S.C., he draws a studio audience of mostly older folks, including one fan from Missouri who told Bakker she used to watch the old PTL show religiously.
"It was my life," she told him on the air.
In one of the three tapes his office sent me, Bakker announced that friends had gotten him back on TV because he didn't have money to do it himself. In all three shows, he pleaded for support by selling different levels of partnerships. Donate $100 a month, for example, and you can join the World Changers Club. A $50 donation gets you into The Jubilee Club.
"We really need to hear from folks this week," Bakker said, noting that he doesn't want to raise money on the air but they're at a turning point and couldn't 10 people in each city where the show airs pledge just $25 a month?
Charlotte, N.C., lawyer Harold Bender, who represented Bakker at his 1989 trial, said that as far as he knows, Bakker can go on TV and raise money - even after spending five years in prison for defrauding followers out of $158 million.
On the air, Bakker promotes his autobiography, "I Was Wrong," and offers hardback copies free to those who make a pledge. On the first of the three shows I sat through, he also promoted another book - the work of a law professor he said read through the entire transcript of his trial.
Bakker called the book a miracle: Its title is "Jim Bakker: Miscarriage of Justice?"
I worked nights at The Charlotte Observer in the mid-1980s, and would rush home to watch Jim and Tammy transfix the audience with their preaching, singing, crying and charisma. I watched and understood why millions of Christians found fun and hope in this once-in-a-lifetime venture that ultimately fell to sex and greed.
Now I watch Jim and Lori preaching, giggling, crying and begging for someone, anyone, to send them a check and keep them on the air - and I just want the show to end.