Televangelists Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, hosts of the popular religious talk show “PTL (Praise The Lord) Club” and foundersof the Christian-themed park Heritage USA, became notorious after Jim was found at the center of outrageous sex and financial fraud scandals.Now, over 30 years after the demise oftheir religious empire, “20/20” re-examines exactly what transpired at their television studios and theme park, featuring interviews with those who knew Jim and Tammy Faye well and footage from the ABC News archives. “20/20” airs Friday, Dec. 20 (9:00 – 11:00 p.m. EST), on ABC.
“20/20” features interviews with GRAMMY® Award winner BeBe Winans, who describes how he and his sister, CeCe, got their big break on the “PTL Club”; Broadway star Kristin Chenoweth, who is creating a musical on Tammy Faye; singer Pat Boone, who discusses his long association with the Bakkers; actor Jim J. Bullock who co-hosted a talk show with Tammy Faye; Jerry Miller, former assistant U.S. attorney who helped send Jim to prison; Don Hardister, former chief of security for PTL and the Bakker family; Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, filmmakers who created the documentary “The Eyes of Tammy Faye”; andTed Koppel, former ABC News “Nightline” anchor who extensively reported on the Bakkers during the time the scandal hit. The program also includes footage of Jim and Tammy Faye’s “PTL Club” TV shows.
Jim and Tammy Faye preached on national television and made a fortune by continuously requesting donations from viewers for PTL-related projects. Using fundraised money, they opened Heritage USA, which drew nearly 6 million visitors per year at the height of its popularity. However, in 1987 their luxurious lifestyle came to a crashing halt with The Charlotte Observer’s investigations into PTL: first with the news that the ministry had negotiated a payment of more than a quarter million dollars to cover up a sexual encounter Jim Bakker had with church secretary Jessica Hahn, and then with its continuing exposés into PTL’s finances, including the revelation that Jim and his associates promoted lifetime partnerships to stay on the Heritage USA property that far exceeded capacity. Jim quickly fell out of public favor when Hahn claimed that Jim allegedly raped her, despite his maintaining that the encounter was consensual.
Jim was found guilty of 24 counts of mail and wire fraud and conspiracy, and was sentenced to 45 years in prison, which was eventually reduced to eight years before serving nearly five and receiving parole. After prison Jim married Lori Beth Graham and is back on television with a new show, “The Jim Bakker Show.” Tammy Faye had divorced Jim while he was behind bars and married Roe Messner, the contractor who built Heritage USA. She died of cancer in 2007. Jim and Tammy Faye left a legacy that changed the way people feel about televangelism, fostering suspicion about faith-based fundraising that still exists today. (Rebroadcast. ABC OAD: 1/18/19)
“20/20” is anchored by David Muir and Amy Robach. David Sloan is senior executive producer.