Marin attorney backs buddy in new Bible quiz show

Fairfax lawyer Wayne Lewis Lesser knew the creator of "In the Beginning" since its inception.

Not God, at least not in this case. The creator, in fact, is Michael Callie, developer of a TV quiz show based on the Bible, which is slated to hit the airwaves next fall.

Callie "is an extremely creative, tenacious and engaging fellow, who had this idea," says Lesser of the Nevada-based writer, who once wrote jokes for the TV show "Hollywood Squares."

"I got involved three years ago providing him with legal services and personal friendship and inspiration."

Lesser's investment in Callie — who married his longtime friend Pam Foulds Callie four years ago — paid off in October when the pilot episode was shot in Santa Monica.

Lesser is now the show's legal counsel as well as vice president of In the Beginning Productions Inc. He attended the screening with his 11-year-old daughter, Leah.

"It's a game show in a question-and-answer format," he says. Synagogues and other religious organizations play against each other.

"So many people and so many groups studying the Bible are affiliated with churches or synagogues," says Lesser, who belongs to San Rafael's Congregation Rodef Sholom with his daughter and wife Lorraine.

On the show, "three people on each side are asked questions that come up in random fashion on a large 10-feet-by-10-feet Bible that is part of our set," Lesser explains. Sample categories might be the Old Testament, kingdoms of the Bible or prophets.

A typical quiz question approved by Bible researchers affiliated with the show, Lesser suggests, is "How tall was Goliath?"

The answer is "six cubits and a span," he says, "or as host Jim MacKrell would put it, `9 feet tall — and today he would be playing for the Lakers.'"

Prize money is slated to go to charities.

"Contestants win for their communities," says Lesser, who has been a board member of Concordia Argonaut and the Marin Jewish Community Center.

"Advertising people will be happy to support a show where the subject matter is eternal and the [resulting prize money goes to] charity."

Actors were the contestants for the pilot, because "we had to script the show; the network and sponsors had to have a clear idea of how it's going to be done," says Lesser.

But when the program goes into production next February, contestants will come from the "275,000 congregations plus unaffiliated Bible-study groups" nationwide, he explains.

LeSea Broadcasting, which Lesser describes as "a family-oriented network," picked up distribution of the show after Callie attended a religious broadcasters' convention last January in Anaheim.

There he met Craig Wallin, LeSea's national sales manager, and Paul Webb, chairman of Hollywood Pacific Studios.

"They became totally convinced that the timing and subject matter were absolutely perfect," says Lesser, a 1969 alumnus of National Law Center, George Washington University, where he received a juris doctor.

LeSea, which owns stations in Indianapolis; Denver; Honolulu; New Orleans; Tulsa, Okla.; and South Bend, Ind., will shoot the 26 adult and 26 children's episodes that make up a broadcast year at its South Bend production studio.

The network also is trying to sell the half-hour quiz show to its affiliates for a fall 1998 release.

And Lesser, who's headed his own San Francisco legal firm since 1971, says one company is already engaged in a contract to do a board game version.

"What happens now is, once the show catches on, everything depends on a public level of acceptance," he says.

"What we have is a show that has timeless appeal. Studies of the Bible are applicable in [the years] 1990, 2000, 2020.

"Questions and answers are never dated."