These are trying times for General Electric's (NYSE:GE) NBC television unit. Once the envy of Viacom's (NYSE:VIA) CBS, Fox Entertainment's (NYSE:FOX) Fox, and Disney's (NYSE:DIS) ABC, NBC has fallen to fourth place in the ratings wars. NBC's lowly status puts it in a difficult predicament as the network presents its fall lineup to advertisers this week in hopes of convincing them to pay top dollar for much of the commercial time in the coming year's prime-time programming.

As its ratings have suffered over the past year, NBC has tried new tactics to grab viewers. One area that seems to have received particular emphasis is religious-themed programming. The most obvious example is NBC's new limited-run drama Revelations, which deals with the apocalypse. However, other NBC shows have also joined the trend. The network's news magazine Dateline has dedicated large segments to such stories as "Secrets Behind The Da Vinci Code," which examined Dan Brown's popular novel, and "Dancing with the Devil," which dealt with exorcisms. Law & Order, meanwhile, recently aired an episode in which the accused was a virtuous born-again Christian.

NBC's push in the religious arena has had mixed success. The first episode of Revelations had a very strong showing, with 15.6 million viewers. Lately, however, interest has waned -- and the show's most recent episode captured just 8.4 million viewers. The lessons for NBC are far from clear. On the one hand, NBC may be on to something. As Revelations' initial success suggests, many appear to be interested in shows that have a religious angle. On the other hand, too much religious programming could turn off some of the network's more secular-minded viewers, while sensationalizing religious issues may alienate the pious.

Nevertheless, with its back against the wall, NBC is considering more entertainment with religious undertones for its fall season. The network is reportedly mulling a new series called The Book of Daniel, the main characters of which are a priest and Jesus Christ.

However, NBC may find that the competition also has jumped on the religious bandwagon. ABC is currently promoting a special report on its 20/20 news program titled "The Resurrection: A Search for Answers." At the moment, believing that NBC can recapture its dominant position with the help of religious programming requires more than a little faith.

Fool contributor Brian Gorman is a freelance writer living in Chicago, Ill. He does not own shares of any companies mentioned here.