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Recently, "Entertainment Tonight" referred to ABC's "GCB" as a show that "makes fun of religion."

But that's not true. The soap/comedy/drama makes fun of people who don't live their faith. And there's a big difference.

"I wouldn't do anything that made fun of my religion," said Kristin Chenoweth, who's never been shy about announcing her Christian faith. "I think we're having fun with it. And if we can't laugh at ourselves, then we need to take a chill pill."

Based on Kim Gatlin's novel Good Christian Bitches, "GCB" centers on Amanda Vaughn (Leslie Bibb), a one-time high-school mean girl. Now 36, her life has pretty much collapsed. Her Ponzi-scheming husband died in a scandalous car accident; her money was confiscated by the government; and she and her children have to move home to Dallas with her formidable mother, Gigi (Annie Potts). To a really rich part of Dallas, that is — Highland Park.

It's been 18 years since high school, but the girls Amanda was mean to haven't forgiven her. They all go to church, but they don't exactly turn the other cheek. "Well, darlin', we all hope you're here for good," says choir member Carlene (Chenoweth), "and not for evil."

Carlene is the most openly pious, even having "John 3:16" emblazoned on her car. She's also a queen bee, showing no signs of forgiveness as she plots to make Amanda's life even more miserable.

"GCB" is hilarious and over-the-top, while at the same time reflecting the real world of the rich and often self-righteous. And those people go to church.

"If you do a cop show, the precinct is the center," said executive producer/writer Robert Harling ("Steel Magnolias"). "If you do a medical show, the emergency room is the center. We're doing a show where the church is the center."

In this case, the church is sort of a generic Protestant religion.

He pointed out that one of his partners, Aaron Harberts, is the son of a minister. "So in-house we have a consultant that we call a lot of times just to make sure we're getting it right," Harling said.

There are those who will, no doubt, be offended that churchgoing people act less than perfectly. But people acting less than perfectly is where comedy begins. And, as Chenoweth pointed out, you can't do a TV show without offending someone.

"There are people who will be unhappy," she said. "There were people who don't appreciate 'Glee.' There are people who didn't appreciate 'Pushing Daisies.' And 'West Wing.' You can't please everybody. If you want to please everybody, get out of show business."

There are definite similarities between "GCB" and "Steel Magnolias," which is no surprise given that Harling wrote the play and adapted it for the movie. "GCB" is populated by tough, funny women. And, like Carlene, some of them are hilarious because they're such massive hypocrites.

"I think there's a version of this everywhere," Bibb said. "I'm from Virginia, and I grew up with women who may dress differently than these women — but I still remember sitting in my church with my mama and her whispering to me like this."

And for Chenoweth, joining the cast of "GCB" was the answer to a prayer. "Yeah, I prayed about this job," she said. "I really, really wanted to do what He wanted. I love Carlene. She's so much fun to play."; —

Series premiere

"GCB" debuts Sunday, March 4, at 9 p.m. on ABC/Channel 4.