Category: Family Movies & Television

The Success of “The Bible’s” Mark Burnett — Minus the Bible Stuff

Faith-filled viewers know Mark Burnett as one-half of the producing team — with Catholic wife Roma Downey — of “The Bible” and its spin-off “Son of God,” along with “A.D.: The Bible Continues,” “The Dovekeepers” and the recent remake of “Ben-Hur.” He and Downey also launched a family- and faith-friendly digital broadcast channel called Light TV (which we reported on here).

People say that Christians aren’t making it big in showbiz, but Burnett proves that isn’t necessarily so.

Of course, his success with faith-based entertainment is built upon decades of producing shows for the mainstream entertainment market. In large part, the credibility he built with shows from “Eco-Challenge” to “Survivor” to “The Apprentice” to “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?” and “The Voice” allows Burnett to dabble in Bible tales without damaging his showbiz viability.

In fact, one reason that “A.D.: The Bible Continues” went to NBC instead of History Channel, like “The Bible” miniseries before it, was because NBC was in business with Burnett on “The Voice” and wanted to participate in his new venture.

Last week, entertainment trade publication Variety did an extensive portrait of Burnett, who’s currently president of MGM Television and Digital Group, and managed not to mention a word about his faith-based efforts.

But, it’s worth a read, if only to get a sense of how a former British paratrooper and nanny managed to build a showbiz empire. Read the whole thing here, but below find an excerpt:

Burnett has long been established as one of TV’s most formidable and innovative producers. But his career took a new turn 18 months ago when he was named president of MGM Television and Digital Group, after MGM acquired the remaining 45% interest in Burnett’s United Artists Media Group production venture with Hearst Corp. MGM’s total purchase price for Burnett’s banner was around $600 million.

The executive post at the studio was a surprise to the industry. Burnett had always been the maverick head of his own independent shingle, leaving him free to partner opportunistically with networks and studios as projects arose. Was TV’s ultimate entrepreneurial producer really ready to hang up his cargo shorts and IFB earpiece to sit behind a desk? Perish the thought.

Burnett has adapted the job of running a studio division to his own style, with the encouragement of MGM chairman-CEO Gary Barber. He’s typically in the MGM offices once or twice a week at most. He hasn’t given up his hands-on role as executive producer of NBC’s “The Voice” or ABC’s “Shark Tank,” among other shows. Burnett and his wife, actress-producer Roma Downey, travel frequently in connection with various productions and the couple’s many passion projects. And MGM TV’s president still doesn’t spend much time wearing suits.

Image: Courtesy Kate O’Hare

Visit the Family Theater Productions homepage and Facebook page to learn more about how FTP is reaching out to Hollywood and producing its own projects.

Emmy Nominations 2017: Family-Suitable Fare Is in the Mix

We may indeed be living in the era of Peak Television, in terms of the proliferation of offerings on broadcast, cable and streaming — but if you’re counting shows for the whole family, especially scripted ones, pickings can be slim. But the Emmy nominations, released on Thursday, July 13, did manage to find some of the bright spots.

The 69th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards come out on Sunday, Sept. 17, and here are some of the family-oriented or family-friendly shows up for honors:


While neither show is squeaky-clean in the tradition of “My Three Sons” or “Happy Days,” and both contain elements that may require conversations in Catholic families, ABC’s “black-ish” and “Modern Family” receive generally high marks for tackling a wide variety of contemporary family issues without being overly sensational. In 2015, the Vatican even recognized “Modern Family” as a show with worthy elements.


While the nominees here tend toward the edgy, standing out are Netflix’s “The Crown,” a fascinating look at the life of Britain’s Elizabeth II, just before and after she becomes queen. No less than Bishop Robert Barron lauded the show for its depiction of both the difficulties and importance of Christian values (for which, regardless of the direction of the Anglican Church, Elizabeth II has always promoted).

Also nominated is NBC’s excellent family drama “This Is Us,” which had reduced many adults —  including hard-bitten TV critics — to tears, with its heartfelt depiction of two generations of a family hit by loss by enriched by adoption.

The nomination also represents the first time in five years that a broadcast network has had a best-drama contender … and it’s with a family-oriented show! Here’s to hoping that this sparks development of more warmhearted shows on the broadcast networks — in the vein of “Highway to Heaven,” “The Waltons” or “Touched by an Angel” but we haven’t exactly seen it yet.

Because of broadcast standards and a different business model, it’s going to be near-impossible for ABC, NBC, CBS and even Fox to compete with the expensive, edgy shows coming out on cable on streaming services. So maybe they should stop trying and just go back to being BROADcasters, and program for the vast middle of America.

They might even make enough money to survive.


Thrilled and a bit surprised to see NBC’s “Dolly Parton’s Christmas of Many Colors: Circle of Love” among the nominees. First of all, TV-movies on broadcast networks are increasingly rare, and this one is a sequel to the previous year’s ratings hit “Dolly Parton’s Christmas of Many Colors.” Both movies — inspired by a Parton song, and based on her childhood in rural Tennessee — celebrate faith and family in a warmhearted yet realistic way. Here’s to hoping more broadcast nets decide to get back into the business of making not only family-suitable shows, but movies as well.

Hallmark may own this space at the moment, but that’s hardly set in stone.


A&E’s “Born This Way” celebrates the joys and challenges of young adults who have Down Syndrome, and has become a critical and ratings hit. It’s a sad day when you need a TV show to show the human face of human beings, but we live in a world where many, if not most, people with this genetic condition never make it to their birthday.

I’ve seen huge billboards for this show in the busiest tourist areas of Hollywood Boulevard, and it’s great to see Emmy voters putting it  into contention.


It’s in the reality genre that parents find many shows to share with their children, and this group has several, such as CBS’ “The Amazing Race,” NBC’s “American Ninja Warrior,” Bravo’s “Top Chef” and NBC’s “The Voice.”

In particular, “The Voice” and “American Ninja Warrior” have proved to be friendly to contestants of faith, and that’s always appreciated.

So, when someone tells you that there’s nothing good on TV anymore, it’s just not true — and we congratulate Emmy voters on recognizing family-suitable fare as part of the quality mix.

Image: Courtesy ITU Pictures

Visit the Family Theater Productions homepage and Facebook page to learn more about how FTP is reaching out to Hollywood and producing its own projects.

Angela Lansbury, Michael Gambon and Emily Watson Cast in ‘Masterpiece: Little Women’ on PBS

Principal photography is about to commence on a new version of Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women” for PBS’ “Masterpiece,” and now we know some of the key roles.

Originally published in two volumes, in 1868 and 1869 (and followed by “Little Men”), “Little Women” follows the lives of the four March sisters — Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy — and their beloved mother, Marmee, as they pass from girlhood to young adulthood in New England during the years surrounding the Civil War (the story begins their father away, serving as a chaplain in the Union Army).

BAFTA Award-winner Emily Watson (“The Theory of Everything,” “Genius”) will play Marmee. Starring as the sisters are Maya Hawke (Jo), Willa Fitzgerald (Meg), Annes Elwy (Beth) and Kathryn Newton (Amy). Dame Angela Lansbury (“Murder, She Wrote”) plays the girls’ wealthy relative, the cantankerous Aunt March. Michael Gambon (“Harry Potter”) plays kindly neighbor Mr. Laurence; and Jonah Hauer-King (“Howard’s End”) plays his grandson, Laurie Laurence, the quintessential boy next door.

“Little Women” is Playground production for the BBC and “Masterpiece,” with a production team from the U.K. and U.S. Hedi Thomas (“Call the Midwife,” “Cranford”) is the writer, with Vanessa Caswill directing.

From the press release announcing the production:

Writer and executive producer Thomas says: “Little Women is one of the most loved novels in the English language, and with good reason. Its humanity, humour and tenderness never date, and as a study of love, grief and growing up it has no equal. There could be no better time to revisit the story of a family striving for happiness in an uncertain world, and I am thrilled to be bringing the March girls to a new generation of viewers.”

“The mini-series is a storytelling form unique to television, and the opportunity to adapt Louisa May Alcott’s novel over three hours is a gift from the BBC and MASTERPIECE on PBS,” said executive producer Callender. “This is a character study of young women rich in texture and detail, and it’s an honour to be able to bring it to life in this extended form with the great Heidi Thomas, one of the finest writers working in television today. In the hands of the exciting directorial style of filmmaker Vanessa Caswill we hope to deliver a new screen version that will speak to contemporary audiences, meet the expectations of the book’s ardent fans and bring a whole new generation to this great classic.”

“Bringing alive this beloved American novel for a new generation of PBS viewers is a dream come true,” said Beth Hoppe, Chief Programming Executive and General Manager, General Audience Programming, PBS. “In the hands of Rebecca Eaton and Colin Callender’s Playground, and with the superb talents of writer Heidi Thomas, we are confident this story of strong women will resonate with both new and longtime fans of MASTERPIECE.”

No premiere date has yet been announced, but it seems unlikely we’ll see this before mid- to late-2018.

Image: Courtesy (Kindle Edition); Wikimedia Commons

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook. Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.

3 for the Fourth: ‘1776,’ ‘John Adams’ and ‘The Last of the Mohicans’

The received wisdom is that nobody watches TV on the Fourth of the July. But we know that there comes a moment when, stuffed with hot dogs and hamburgers, lobster-red from the sun, before or after the fireworks, when many people love to collapse in the air-conditioned coolness of the closest TV room.

We’re here for you.

The following are my personal top choices for perennial Independence Day (or Eve or Night) viewing.

“1776” (1972)

In a compact, entertaining way, complete with memorable songs, this movie version of a Broadway show manages to do several things simultaneously:

  • Lays out the basic facts and arguments for and against American independence
  • Introduces us to the major players in a way that turns them from marble statues into humans
  • Touches on the most difficult bits (like slavery) without wallowing in them
  • Gives you tunes to hum as you’re flipping goodies on the grill.

And for past and current residents of New York State, there’s a line about the state’s legislature that should hit home.

“1776” is available for streaming on Amazon Prime.

Here are a few outstanding bits:

And this last clip, featuring a young man named Stephen Nathan, who lately has been one of the executive producers of “Bones” on Fox:

Oh, and much of the dialogue between John and Abigail Adams is taken from their real letters. And even the bits that aren’t historical are memorable:

John Adams: It doesn’t matter. I won’t be in the history books anyway, only you. Franklin did this and Franklin did that and Franklin did some other d**n thing. Franklin smote the ground and out sprang George Washington, fully grown and on his horse. Franklin then electrified him with his miraculous lightning rod and the three of them – Franklin, Washington, and the horse – conducted the entire revolution by themselves.


Dr. Benjamin Franklin: I like it.

Speaking of John Adams …

“John Adams”: (2008)

You could at least get a start on this excellent HBO miniseries, starring Paul Giamatti as the Founding Father, first vice-president of the U.S. and second president. It also stars Laura Linney as Abigail Adams, and British actor Stephen Dillane as Adams’ lifelong friend and political rival, Thomas Jefferson.

Again, it puts meat on the bones of the historical personage, reveals the overwhelming struggles and obstacles at the nation’s birth — and reveals that the press was no nicer then than it is now.

Here’s a nasty and politically incorrect taste from the election of 1800, courtesy of

Things got ugly fast. Jefferson’s camp accused President Adams of having a “hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.” In return, Adams’ men called Vice President Jefferson “a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father.” As the slurs piled on, Adams was labeled a fool, a hypocrite, a criminal, and a tyrant, while Jefferson was branded a weakling, an atheist, a libertine, and a coward. Even Martha Washington succumbed to the propaganda, telling a clergyman that Jefferson was “one of the most detestable of mankind.”

“John Adams” is available on the HBO Now app and on Amazon Prime.

How “John Adams” ratified the Declaration of Independence:

And a bit featuring Alexander Hamilton, who’s become even more famous, thanks to another Broadway music, named after him …

“The Last of the Mohicans” (1992)

Nothing happens in a vaccum, and before the Revolutionary War came the French and Indian War, in which American colonists got their first real inkling of just how little regard for their rights the faraway British crown had. Set in 1757, this sweeping romance is based on the famous novel by James Fenimore Cooper. Directed by Michael Mann, it follows the adventures of scout Nathaniel “Natty” Bumppo — a k a Hawkeye — played by British-Irish actor Daniel Day Lewis, as the American colonists get caught between the warring British and French, and their respective Native American allies.

As a native of the very region where the movie takes place — Lake George and the nearby towns along the Hudson River, in the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains — I can say there are a few geographical oddities in the film, large portions of which were filmed in the Blue Ridge Mountains (and none of which was shot in the Adirondacks). But having been steeped in these stories since childhood, I can say that it does them justice.

And it has fantastic theme music …

“The Last of the Mohicans” is available to stream on Amazon Prime.

Image: Courtesy Columbia Pictures

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook. Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.

‘Dead Men Tell No Tales’ Reminded Me Why I Love ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’

OK, it didn’t remind ME, but it did remind our guest poster today, Catholic mom and writer Adrienne Thorne, who reviews TV and movies at “Thorne in the Flesh.”


Warning: This review for Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” (the fifth installment in the series) also contains spoilers for “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” (the third one).

When the first “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie came out in 2003, I was only 13 and my parents didn’t let me watch PG-13 movies. I remember being jealous when I heard my friends talking about it, but it wasn’t until a couple years later when my parents let me rent it from the good old Hollywood Video store that I realized what I had missed out on. I was enthralled, possibly a little obsessed.

What exactly did I love about that first movie, “The Curse of the Black Pearl”? It’s a certain whimsical, swashbuckling-fun quality that is probably one part reminiscent of the fun Disneyland ride, one part grown-up/pretend/romantical-setting fun, and one part Captain Jack Sparrow quips.

Unfortunately, the next three movies just didn’t compare to the first, in my mind. They had their high points – like when Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swan (Keira Knightley) said their wedding vows while literally sword-fighting with bad guys in between – but to me, those movies were, on the whole, rather forgettable. So I wasn’t really expecting to be wowed by this movie, as much as my curiosity made me want to see it.

Pleasantly Surprising

I felt like I was back watching the first movie again. Like “The Curse of the Black Pearl,” this latest installment brought me to another place where all manner of pirate-y mayhem could happen.

Granted there were a couple not-fantastic elements, like some fight scenes that go on a smidge too long and an apparently pointless scene where Captain Jack (Johnny Depp) meets his uncle in prison… but on the whole, it was enjoyable and fun. Considering that I was worrying about my kids giving my mom a hard time while she babysat them as I watched it, it’s probably saying something that it kept my attention at all, let alone entertained me that much.

My Favorite Part

Warning, here’s the big spoiler for the third movie, if you haven’t seen it: My heart broke for Will Turner and Elizabeth Swan over their curse. To be finally married and only able to see each other once every ten years? It’s one of the most beautifully heart-breaking romantic story-points I’ve ever seen in a movie. And I think it was made more heart-breaking by the assumption on my part that we would never see their quandary solved in later movies.

Well, guess what… If you were as heart-broken as I was for them at the end of the third movie, you simply must watch “Dead Men Tell No Tales.”

Okay, I must give a little bit of it away: They have a kid now (my husband and I commented to each other, probably with obnoxious loudness to the other people in the theater, how that was some timing for Elizabeth to actually have been ovulating the one time they got to see each other in ten years!). And that kid wants to find a way to break his dad’s curse. And he needs Captain Jack’s help, so we get all the funny one-liners and the quips to break up the swashbuckling action sequences.

Moral Issues

It’s pirates, guys. They steal, plunder, murder… The analytic, moral-theology-inclined part of me wants to hate it, in principle. But it’s just so much fun!

In all seriousness, it’s really not a kid’s movie (as the other four weren’t). Don’t let the Disney name fool you. There’s lots of PG-13 violence (including a rather cringe-y bit involving Mr. Gibbs letting a dumb fellow pirate take a fierce beating, and later ripping out the same pirate’s toenail to use as a lock pick…), drunkenness, debauchery; a couple instances of innuendo, including a fairly crude conversation where some of the pirates joke/are confused about whether or not a girl is a prostitute, playing on the word “horologist” – it’s kind of funny, but a little much, Disney.

I’ve always felt that, even though these movies basically glorify the pirate lifestyle and all the objectively bad stuff that comes with it, watching it isn’t really something that is going to lead a mature viewer into sin. Would I let my little kids watch it? Probably not. But I personally tend to think it’s mostly good fun for the old-enough viewer.


That love story, man. I’m such a sap for the Will Turner/Elizabeth Swan saga. I honestly felt that, by the time we got to the satisfying ending, this movie redeemed even the lameness of the fourth movie.

Also, make sure you watch after the credits. Oh yes, there’s more!

Image: Courtesy Walt Disney Pictures

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook. Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.

‘Catholic Central’: Family Theater Productions Announces New Web Series for Fall!

So excited! After many months of planning, writing, casting, rehearsal and production right here in our studio on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, we here at Family Theater Productions are proud to announce our upcoming Web series, “Catholic Central.”

Those who stopped by our booth at this past winter’s Religious Education Congress in Anaheim met our stars, Kaiser Johnson (EWTN’s “Saints vs. Scoundrels,” The CW’s “Vampire Diaries” and Fox’s “Sleepy Hollow”) and John Paul the Great Catholic University graduate Libby Slater, and got a preview of the series.

Now we’re revealing it to the world!

Click on to get on the mailing list for new information.

Dubbed both entertaining and informing by young adults, series launches on YouTube in September

HOLLYWOOD, Calif. – “Catholic Central” offers entertaining and authoritative answers to questions about Catholic thought, spirituality and practice. Family Theater Productions assembled a team of witty writers, appealing hosts and learned theologians to produce a collection of videos that entertain, enlighten and inspire.

The first collection of short videos will be released on September 15 and topics include:

  1. Problem of Evil
  2. Catholic Social Teaching
  3. Creation and Evolution
  4. Being Human
  5. The Mass
  6. Praying with the Bible: Ignatian Meditation
  7. Baptism
  8. Pope
  9. The Seven Deadly Sins
  10. The Gospels

“We worked with the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate to conduct focus groups of young adults across the country to determine what topics were important to the participants and what questions they needed answered,” said Susan Wallace, Marketing Director of Family Theater Productions. “Other information on the programs was shared and has been helpful as we finalize the programs.”

“The show hosts, Kaiser Johnson and Libby Slater, are a quirky duo that move through the content quickly and make it interesting and fun,” said Wallace.

The series is produced by David Impastato and Father David Guffey, C.S.C., directed by Danny J. Boyle, and cinematography is by Steve Taylor.

Catholic Central is a production of Family Theater Productions, a member ministry Holy Cross Family Ministries, founded by Servant of God Patrick Peyton in 1947. A candidate for sainthood, Father Peyton was one of the most influential American Catholic priests of the 20th century. For more information on Family Theater Productions’ media projects –

For information, contact:

David Kindy

508-863-2534 cell

Here’s a peek at the trailer:

Images: Courtesy Family Theater Productions

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook. Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.