Johnny Carson he's not, but the Rev. Jerry Falwell nevertheless will launch his own TV talk show on Monday.
The fundamentalist preacher will host an hourlong program five mornings a week on his fledgling Liberty Broadcasting Network.
Falwell aides said he had planned the step before he assumed control in March of the scandal-scarred PTL religious TV network, whose featured program was the talk show co-hosted by Jim and Tammy Bakker. But now Falwell is suddenly the best-known evangelist using a talk show format on religious television. Bakker resigned his PTL posts as he admitted an extramarital sexual encounter, and Pat Robertson left his "700 Club" talk show last year to seek political support for the 1988 Republican presidential nomination.
Falwell has been on television for years, buying station time for his "Old Time Gospel Hour," a taped version of his Sunday service at Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va.
His venture into a live, talk-show format will have a relatively limited cable TV audience, at least at the start.
The Liberty network is seen nationwide on 90 cable systems, which have a total of 1.3 million subscribers. The show will also be available to about 30 small TV stations, mostly with all-religious formats.
In the Los Angeles area, for instance, the Liberty Broadcasting Network is available only on Rogers Cable systems in the Bellflower-Downey area and the Garden Grove-Los Alamitos area and on Group W Cable in some South Bay cities.
Falwell aides have said that no decision has been made yet on whether to use the PTL network to air his show, which will be produced in Lynchburg.
The program, to be shown live at 9 a.m. in the Eastern time zone and repeated three times during the day, will be called "Jerry Falwell, the Pastor's Study," according to Jerry Whitehurst, director of affiliate marketing programs for the network.
"There will be some singing, either with tape inserts or live, but it won't be heavy on guests at first," Whitehurst said.
He also indicated that the show will include many promotions for Falwell's Liberty University and other projects.
The second program, on Tuesday, will be a taped one, because Falwell will be presiding over the second meeting of the new PTL board in Fort Mill, S.C.
The move came as it was reported that contributions to the "Old Time Gospel Hour" have declined for the third year in a row. The Lynchburg News & Daily Advance said tax records for the period ending June 30, 1986, showed "Gospel Hour" donations totaled $44,254,000, down from a peak of $52,563,946 in 1983.
But the newspaper article quoted Falwell as saying that all of his Lynchburg ministries and lobbying operations brought in more than $90 million last year, the highest revenue total ever.
Other Revenue Sources
"In the past three years," Falwell said, "we have begun depending less on direct-mail fund-raising and more on tuitions, fees, and other revenues of that nature."
Falwell told the newspaper that the combined operations of the television show, the church and Liberty University brought in $84 million. Moral Majority and Liberty Federation collected $6.5 million for the year ending in August, 1986, he said.
Previously published reports listed the combined ministries' revenues at $72.3 million in 1985, according to the newspaper.
Falwell also revealed that his gross income for 1986, $435,000, was inflated by part of a $1-million advance from Simon & Schuster for his autobiography, which is due out later this year. He said his annual income, which comes from speaking fees, book royalties and salaries from "Gospel Hour" and Thomas Road, usually is about $200,000.
The tax return also showed Falwell has not yet made any payments on the $160,000 house he bought from the "Gospel Hour" in 1985. But Falwell said he has made "significant" contributions to the loan during the current year, and added that he has asked that the no-interest loan be changed to a debt carrying an 8% rate.