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Jesus: Christ!

Jesus To the dismay of heathens and TV execs everywhere, Jesus Christ has never been hotter: Last year's "Mary, Mother of Jesus" (NBC), last month's claymation "The Miracle Maker" (ABC) and now, the simply-titled "Jesus" (CBS, Sunday, May 14 and Wednesday, May 17, 8 p.m.), are solid proof that the Messiah is no longer a not-ready-for-prime-time player. In fact, things are on such a holy roll for Jesus, he's even consented to do publicity for this latest epic -- the following is an exclusive phone interview with the man Himself:

TeeVee: Hello, Jesus?

Jesus Christ: Yes, hello?

TeeVee: Whassup?!

JC: Please don't do that. It's so five minutes ago.

TeeVee: Sorry. Can you explain your recent resurgence in TV-movie popularity? It's been quite a while since the last network epic about you, 1977's "Jesus of Nazareth" -- why the sudden interest in Christ?

JC: Everyone is asking me that on this press junket, and I've yet to come up with an answer. As long as the audience is there, who am I to question it? [Laughs] OK, I am Jesus Christ, but really, I'm just happy to be back on the networks -- Pax is a fine little Christian cable outlet, but no one can expand their sales-base between Matlock reruns. Not even me.

TeeVee: You worked as an uncredited consultant on CBS' Jesus, so you're obviously close to the project -- what did you think of NBC's "Mary, Mother of Jesus" and ABC's "The Miracle Maker"?

JC: I'd rather not disparage any other productions, because at least they made the effort, instead of just cranking out another damned -- and I do mean damned -- game show. However, it is kind of disconcerting to have the actor who portrayed you [Christian Bale in "Mary"] go on to star in "American Psycho," you know? It's even stranger to see yourself in claymation -- "The Miracle Maker" had that whole Davey & Goliath retro-vibe going for it, so it tested well with the Boomer demographic.

TeeVee: So you follow the market research behind your projects?

JC: I follow everything, remember?

TeeVee: My bad. "The Miracle Maker" also angered many Christians by animating you as short, plain and dark-skinned, instead of the standard -- albeit, probably incorrect -- tall, handsome and blond. In "Jesus," you're again more Joe Surfer than Jewish -- which is the right look?

JC: Since every religion and continent has its own engrained vision of me, despite that whole "graven image" thing -- which apparently no one pays attention to -- revealing the real Jesus would be confusing and, frankly, pointless. Kind of like the "Quarter Pounder/Royale with Cheese" argument from "Pulp Fiction." Different strokes, people.

TeeVee: Getting back to "Jesus," Jesus, how do you like the cast of this latest mini-series?

JC: Jeremy Sisto has me down quite well, but I could still show him a few dance moves. Debra Messing [Mary Magdalene], of Will & Grace, was a panic on the set! Funny lady -- we were doing "Just Jesus!" [a la Will & Grace's "Just Jack!" gag] constantly, cracking up the crew. Too bad she's Jewish, but what are you gonna do? [Laughs] I kid, of course.

TeeVee: Since I'm calling from Salt Lake City, what's your take on the Mormons?

JC: Mormons? Hmmm... No, sorry. I'm not familiar with their work.

TeeVee: You're a cartoon regular on South Park, hosting your own cable-access TV talk show -- would you ever consider hosting one for real?

JC: Why? Did Letterman finally kick? [Laughs] Seriously, it takes real God-given talent to do that, or a deal with Satan. Not to cast any doubt upon the skills of Larry King, but he's not in my Rolodex, if you know what I mean.

TeeVee: Should Jesus do well in the ratings, do you foresee a sequel? Or even a regular series?

JC: They'll have to do it without my input if that happens; I'm committed to a development deal with DreamWorks. Right now, I'm working on a feel-good show about a vaguely sexy Irish angel who helps save souls and drinks mocha lattés -- oh, and she also kicks butt on a roller-derby team.

TeeVee: Uh, isn't that just Touched by an Angel, with a bit of RollerJam?

JC: Look, who's the Messiah here? Besides, I'm certainly not going to rip off a hugely popular show just because I can, being Christ and all. [Call-waiting clicks] Sorry, I've got to take this... [click] Yes, hello?

Roma Downey: Whassup?!

JC: Whassup?!


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