Jim Bakker planning TV talk show

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution/December 9, 2002

Branson, Mo. -- The cafe where Jim Bakker plans to carry daily broadcasts has opened. Now, the fallen televangelist must persuade TV stations to carry his talk show.

Diners at Studio City Cafe will be the studio audience, local and national entertainers will be featured guests and Bakker and his wife, ordained minister Lori Graham Bakker, will be hosts. The show will feature the 20 Christian singers who double as wait staff, cashiers and cooks at the 260-seat cafe operated by the Churchill Coffee Company.

"We're not looking at the big (networks) yet," said Chris Busch, director of Tulsa, Okla.-based B/M/C Advertising, which is recruiting television stations. "Jim wants steady, controlled, well-managed growth. He'll be tweaking the show initially. One thing we know for sure is Jim believes in excellence."

Bakker's backers, both newfound and those dating to Bakker's scandal-riddled PTL Ministries in York County, S.C., are financing and encouraging the project.

"It's surreal to me right now. I know there are some people who won't like me, and I don't blame them. But since I've been in Missouri, not one person has been mean or cruel or said a sarcastic remark to me," Bakker said.

The minister -- he is unaffiliated with any denomination -- returned to Christian evangelism upon his release from federal prison in 1995 and began working with a ministry in Los Angeles. He was convicted of mail and wire fraud 13 years ago. In recent years, he has operated from Vernon, Fla., where he founded another independent ministry, New Covenant Fellowship.

Bakker said he has been stunned by the outpouring of moral and financial support and volunteer labor he has found in Branson.

"I've never been welcomed so wonderfully anywhere in my life," Bakker said. "I'm beyond excited. I'm overwhelmed. People are just doing things. Last week, a man that sells carpeting chased me with his truck, and he told me he had heard me on the radio talking about this. He said, 'God told me to do whatever you asked. What can I do for you?"'

It turned out Bakker needed -- and received -- carpeting for a room where tea pots and cups donated by Christian celebrities are displayed.

A few weeks ago, magician Kirby VanBurch had a side of beef, wrapped and frozen, delivered to Bakker's home to be sure the family had plenty to eat.

"Everywhere you look, there's a miracle," Bakker said.

Bakker founded the PTL ministries in 1972 and resigned in 1987 after admitting to an affair with a ministry secretary.

In 1989, Bakker was convicted of a wire and mail-fraud scheme over the sale of more than 150,000 lifetime partnerships to his ministry's Heritage USA theme park in Fort Mill, S.C. Other ministry officials also were convicted in the case.

Two years later, Bakker's 45-year sentence was reduced to 18 years. He served five years before his parole. While in prison, his former wife, Tammy Faye Bakker, divorced him.

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