Category: News & Trends

‘American Ninja Warrior’: Good for Kids, Good for the Whole Family

Want a show to watch with the whole family, that might inspire kids to get off the couch and away from video games? Try “American Ninja Warrior,” airing this Thursday on NBC.

Once upon a time, there were secular comedies and dramas that the parents and kids sat down and watched together. Everyone was entertained; no one was scandalized. Those shows aren’t entirely gone, but increasingly they’re not scripted anymore.

One of the best unscripted mainstream-TV shows for Catholic families is NBC and Esquire Network’s “American Ninja Warrior.”

This competition series, based on a Japanese format, sees men and women vying together on a series of challenging obstacle courses, in hopes of advancing to the finals in Las Vegas. Along the way, the show profiles the often-inspiring personal lives of the contestants, spotlighting their hard work, dedication and perseverance.

Some of them have families, and they’re seen training with their kids, while many others are coaches for kids.

When contestants are people of faith, that isn’t entirely hidden.

Among them have been rabbinical student Akiva Neuman, the “Rabbi Ninja,” who competed in a kippa and a tzitzit; Christian Michelle Warnky, who stencils Bible verses on her leg; and perennial favorite and top competitor,  the “Ninja Weatherman,” a k a faithful Catholic Joe Moravsky (who’s also in “Team Ninja Warrior,” airing Tuesdays on NBC’s corporate sibling, USA Network).

I did an interview with him last year for the FFM blog. Here’s an excerpt:

I believe there is a link between athletic discipline and Faith. I always trust in God to provide the path for me … and my job is to be open to any changes (even if I might not like them). It’s hard but it’s important.

It says in your Twitter bio that God is #1 — how does that play out in daily life?

“God is #1” is important because it’s a reminder for me (and my fans) to put God first … especially in times of need!

There’s also Sean Bryan, the “Papal Ninja,” who competes for the glory of God and the Catholic Church. We talked to him at an event this past winter, and expect to see that video right around the time of the new-season premiere on Monday, June 12, at 8 p.m. ET/PT.

Here’s a quote from an earlier, extensive interview I did with Bryan, published at my Pax Culturati blog at Patheos:

I see the role of all laypeople as that of a papal ninja.

In an analogical sense, think of what a ninja is: a gifted person who stealthily helps to accomplish the mission of the one who sent him. Laypeople are likewise called by Christ to partake in the secular mission of His Church by using their gifts to “work for the sanctification of the world from within as a leaven.” As such, I am called to simply be myself, and live out the Gospel faithfully in the “ordinary circumstances” of my life, which in this particular case includes trying my best to witness the faith quite publicly.

Personally, I like being behind the camera (filming and editing), but the words of John the Baptist are encouraging, so long as I take them to heart, “I must decrease, that he may increase” (Jn 3:30).

Paradoxically – which is often the case with our Lord – in this situation my decreasing involves being on broadcast television, and growing beyond the discomfort for the sake of my calling, so that He may increase.

You don’t, though, have to wait until June to see “American Ninja Warrior.” There’s a special episode on Thursday, May 25, as part of a night-long event to benefit “Red Nose Day.”

A fundraising campaign run by the nonprofit Comic Relief, Inc. — a registered U.S. 501(c)(3) public charity — “Red Nose Day” urges people to don red clown noses as part of a variety of events to raise funds to support children in need, both in the U.S. and around the world.

“American Ninja Warrior” is joining in.

From NBC:

In the first celebrity edition of “American Ninja Warrior,” nine brave stars will tackle the course, all in the name of charity.

Matt Iseman and Akbar Gbajabiamila serve as hosts, along with Kristine Leahy who co-hosts. The intrepid celebrity ninjas include Stephen Amell (“Arrow”), Erika Christensen (“Parenthood”), Jeff Dye (“Better Late Than Never”), two-time Olympic gold medalist Ashton Eaton, Nikki Glaser ( “Not Safe with Nikki Glaser”), Derek Hough (“World of Dance”), Natalie Morales (“TODAY” and “Access Hollywood”) former New York Yankees outfielder Nick Swisher (“Spartan Ultimate Team Challenge”) and Mena Suvari (“American Woman”).

Each of the celebrities will be paired with an elite ninja who serves as both coach and cheerleader — helping them prepare mentally and physically for their run.

From the Floating Steps to the Warped Wall, each of the celebs will have to face up to six challenging obstacles that call upon their upper body strength, agility and stamina.

The elite ninja advisers include fan favorites and National “finalists” Kevin Bull (coaching Ashton Eaton); Kacy Catanzaro (coaching Stephen Amell), Drew Drechsel (coaching Nick Swisher), Natalie Duran (coaching Mena Suvari), Daniel Gil (coaching Derek Hough), Jessie Graff (coaching Nikki Glaser), Grant McCartney (coaching Natalie Morales), Meagan Martin (coaching Jeff Dye) and Flip Rodriguez (coaching Erika Christensen).

“American Ninja Warrior” is executive-produced by A. Smith & Co. Productions’ founders Arthur Smith and Kent Weed along with Brian Richardson and Anthony Storm.

Also that night is “Running Wild With Bear Grylls for Red Nose Day,” featuring actress Julia Roberts on a trip to deliver life-saving vaccines in Africa; and “The Red Nose Day Special,” with host Chris Hardwick, featuring comedy, music and films about kids in need.

Before you choose to donate money to Red Nose Day, be aware that there has been controversy over it, especially in the U.K., where it began, concerning whether some of the charities supported were also involved in providing abortions (a charge Comic Relief has largely denied, irritating some political progressives.)

Anytime you’re dealing with a secular charity, it’s always a good idea to dig in a little bit and see exactly where the money goes … so, donor beware.

Images: Courtesy NBC

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.

‘This Is Us’: Scores Super-Bowl Slot and Christmas Special (UPDATED)

NBC’s hit family drama “This Is Us,” already renewed for two more seasons, is taking its place as a celebrated centerpiece of the network’s fall and winter schedule.

For its sophomore season, the Christopher Award-winning “This is Us” — which simultaneously focuses on young marrieds Jack and Rebecca Pearson (Mandy Moore, Milo Ventimiglia) and their triplets during the ’80s and beyond, and on the siblings (Sterling K. Brown, Chrissy Metz, Justin Hartley) as mid-30s adults — is moving from Tuesday to Thursday night, perhaps in a bid by NBC to revive its “Must-See TV” tagline.

From Variety:

“If there is one show we could move it would be this one,” explained NBC entertainment chair Bob Greenblatt of the show’s move to 9pm on Thursdays during a conference call with reporters. “There is a case for keeping the show where it was. It’s a little risky, but there’s a bigger case for redoing Thursday nights.”

UPDATE 5/30/17: NBC has changed its mind, moving “This Is Us” back to Tuesdays, at 9 p.m. ET/PT.

The drama is also being given the plum post-Super Bowl slot on Feb. 4, 2018. But, being moved to Thursdays also means that there will be interruptions in the schedule for Thursday-night NFL games. Since the Pearsons are Pittsburgh Steelers fans, Greenblatt said to Variety:

“There will hopefully be some Pittsburgh Steelers games in there,” said Greenblatt,” since the team factors into the show. “I’d love the Steelers to go to the Super Bowl.”

There’s also going to be a Christmas episode to airing during the holiday season, followed by another schedule interruption in February for the Winter Olympics.

Despite all this, NBC seems all in on this emotional, touching, family-centered show, which seems to melt even the stoniest of TV-critic hearts.

The fact that it’s on NBC is confusing me to no end.

The show is great, but it’s so unlike anything NBC has picked up in recent years — but it does follow the network’s success with two faith-friendly Dolly Parton Christmas movies. And now, the Peacock network is doing a live version of the musical “Jesus Christ Superstar” in the spring of 2018.

Is NBC having a come-to-Jesus moment? I doubt it, but something’s up. Whatever it is, I hope it keeps on going.

Surprisingly though, it doesn’t appear that the other broadcast networks have rushed to develop more multigenerational family dramas in the vein of “This Is Us.”

I recently ran into a friend who spent many years in a senior PR position at another network, and she said, “They think it’s a fluke.”

Well, if we want more positive, heartwarming shows like “This Is Us,” we may have to be a little more vociferous in convincing TV execs that it’s not.

Related stories:

NBC’s ‘Dolly Parton’s Christmas of Many Colors: Circle of Love’ Airs Wednesday

NBC to Do ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ Live Musical in Spring 2018

Christopher Awards: ‘Hacksaw Ridge,’ ‘This Is Us,’ Dolly Parton and More …

What ‘This Is Us’ and Jack Teach Us About Fatherhood on St. Joseph’s Day

Image: Courtesy NBC

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.

Jim and Jeannie Gaffigan Say Her Illness Has Strengthened Their Catholic Faith

Fame and success don’t insulate anyone from trials and suffering, something Catholic spouses and parents of five Jim and Jeannie Gaffigan recently experienced, when Jeannie underwent surgery to remove a life-threatening, six-centimeter tumor wrapped around her brain stem.

On May 1, her husband took to Facebook with this news.

Jeannie Gaffigan — who is her comedian husband’s writing and producing partner — survived the April 18 surgery at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, and is currently recuperating at home in New York with her husband, children and other family members.

Speaking to People magazine, Jeannie Gaffigan, 47, said:

“Every thing has completely strengthened my faith in God,” says Jeannie, 47. “Because I told God, I said, ‘God, I’m not ready to go. I have work to do. Please help me.’ ”

She also said:

“I have no doubt that there were supernatural powers helping me through this. No doubt.”

Grateful for circumstances that allowed them to quickly meet with Mount Sinai top surgeon Dr. Joshua Bederson, Jim Gaffigan said to People:

“It’s a miracle that lead us to that place,” says Jim, 50, who admits it’s been hard to watch his wife go through such a scary process, and now, a difficult recovery.

A story last week at People also talked about how the Gaffigans were struck by the amount of love and prayers they received, and are using this experience to teach their children about compassion.

Said Jeannie:

“When you’re in the hospital and you can’t take care of yourself and you see all these people who are just committed to being doctors and nurses and caregivers, it’s really unbelievable that people would dedicate their lives to taking care of other people. And I want children that are in touch with that kind of empathy.”

Images: Wikimedia Commons; IMDB; Facebook — Jim Gaffigan

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.

NBC to Air ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ Live Musical on Easter 2018

NBC — home to the hit family drama “This Is Us,” and the network that aired one season of “A.D.: The Bible Continues” — has chosen “Jesus Christ Superstar” as its next live TV musical, to air on Easter Sunday, April 1, 2018.

Staged on Broadway in 1971, “Superstar” follows NBC’s other live musical events, including adaptations of “The Sound of Music,” “Peter Pan,” “The Wiz” and “Hairspray.”

Original show creators Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice are executive producers for the event, and will oversee any new music or lyrics for the NBC vision. The other executive producers — Mark Platt (“La La Land”), Craig Zadan and Neil Meron — are also veterans of musical productions.

Says Variety:

“As we continue to expand the profile of our live musicals, we are thrilled to be partnering with Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice to bring a new live staging of the iconic ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ to NBC,” said Robert Greenblatt, chairman of NBC Entertainment. “Casting has just begun, but we want to fill out this classic show with as many recording artists as possible to give proper voice to what is the original rock opera score.”

The choice of “Superstar” follows Fox’s Palm Sunday, 2016, presentation of Tyler Perry’s “The Passion.” The live event was based on a Dutch production chronicling the last hours of Christ’s life, staged in New Orleans and featuring a panoply of pop-music performers.

Apparently NBC is also on the hunt for authentic music stars to fill out the cast.

For those too young to remember “Superstar,” it’s a rock-musical take on the last week leading up to the Crucifixion, largely from Judas’ perspective (or at least the perspective assigned to him in this version of the Passion narrative).

Most people who know “Superstar” have either heard the original cast album or seen the 1973 film version, starring Ted Neeley as Jesus, and Yvonne Elliman as Mary Magdalene. But at its heart, it’s still a stage show.

Also from Variety:

The musical first opened at the Mark Hellinger Theatre on Broadway in 1971 and starred Jeff Fenholt as Jesus and Ben Vereen as Judas, and was nominated for five Tony Awards that year. Prior to making its way to the stage, the musical was originally conceived as a concept album that hit no. 1 on the Billboard charts. Since then, the show has been performed in nearly 20 countries and translated into 18 different languages. In the 46 years since its debut, “Jesus Christ Superstar” has been revived many times, including Tony-nominated runs in 2000 and 2012.

From a Catholic perspective, “Superstar” is not good catechesis, but then, why would anyone expect a 1970s rock musical to be that, anyway? But it is an engaging, very human portrayal of Christ, and many folks — myself included — have found it spiritually uplifting and effective.

NBC’s version could be great, or awful, or somewhere in between, but throwing up a few prayers starting now can’t hurt.

Many Christians have decried “Jesus Christ Superstar,” but the Vatican did approve a version for pilgrims back in 1999.

From the U.K. Guardian:

Gerald O’Collins, a professor of theology at Gregorian university in Rome, said that accusations that the musical demeaned or trivialised Jesus were misplaced. “Christians have been depicting Him on stage since the passion plays of the middle ages,” he said. “This is no different.”

Here’s a peek at Ted Neeley’s performance:

Here’s Elliman, with Mary Magdalene’s signature song:

And Carl Anderson, as Judas, singing the musical’s signature song:

And here’s the entire 1973 movie, filmed in Israel (it’s not a great quality video; for better, grab it off Amazon Prime):

Image: Original Broadway logo

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.

EWTN to Premiere ‘The Message of Fatima’ On May 10

The year 2017 marks the 100th anniversary of the Marian apparitions at Cova da Iria, near Fatima, a city 110 miles north of Lisbon, Portugal — and EWTN is rolling out a new miniseries to mark the occasion, called “The Message of Fatima.”

Between May 13 and Oct. 13, 1917, three Portuguese shepherd children — Francisco and Jacinta Marto, and their cousin Lucia dos Santos — saw monthly visions of Our Lady.

Mary instructed the children to pray the rosary for world peace, to end World War I, to convert sinners, and to bring Russia back to the Faith.

From Franciscan Media:

Mary gave the children three secrets. Following the deaths of Francisco and Jacinta in 1919 and 1920 respectively, Lucia revealed the first secret in 1927. It concerned devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The second secret was a vision of hell. When Lucia grew up she became a Carmelite nun and died in 2005 at the age of 97.

Pope John Paul II directed the Holy See’s Secretary of State to reveal the third secret in 2000; it spoke of a “bishop in white” who was shot by a group of soldiers who fired bullets and arrows into him. Many people linked this vision to the assassination attempt against Pope John Paul II in St. Peter’s Square on May 13, 1981.

The feast of Our Lady of Fatima was approved by the local bishop in 1930; it was added to the Church’s worldwide calendar in 2002.

The Feast of Our Lady of Fatima is Saturday, May 13 … and the very next day, Sunday, May 14, is Mother’s Day — so that weekend, we celebrate both our Mother in Heaven and all the mothers on Earth.

In a May 4 blog post, EWTN revealed extensive details about its docudrama miniseries “The Message of Fatima,” written, produced and directed by Stefano Mazzeo.

From the EWTN blog:

Not everyone knows that an Angel appeared to the three shepherd children in 1916 to prepare them for the apparitions from the Mother of God the following year. Episode 1 of this important docu-drama, which airs at 6:30 p.m. ET, Wednesday, May 10, prepares viewers for what is to come by conveying the Angel’s messages. At 8 p.m. ET that same evening, Fr. Mitch Pacwa will interview Writer/Director Mazzeo on “EWTN Live.”

Then, just as at Fatima in 1917, EWTN will air an account of one of the six apparitions on the 13th of the same month in which they originally occurred. Each monthly episode will begin at 6:30 p.m. ET, beginning Saturday, May 13 and ending Friday, Oct. 13 with the Miracle of the Sun.

The production was filmed on location in Fatima, featuring a trio of young actors that looks strikingly like the original seers, along with such authentic settings as the church in which the children were baptized, went to First Confession and First Holy Communion.

Said Mazzeo:

“Pope Benedict XVI said, “We would be mistaken to think that Fatima’s prophetic mission is complete. The message will continue to be lived out as long as there are people on earth. It’s a private revelation, so we don’t have to believe it, but it does lead us to and re-emphasize the deposit of faith. I cannot say for sure that anything will happen this year, but I believe that the message of Fatima is not finished yet. The prophesies are ongoing.”

Click here to read the whole thing, which includes several stills from the production.

There are also reports that Pope Francis will canonize Blessed Francisco and Blessed Jacinta — who died while still children — during an upcoming visit to the Fatima shrine in Portugal on May 12-23. The sainthood cause for Servant of God Sister Lucia is ongoing, and in February, it passed an important milestone on the way to beatification, the last step before canonization.

Image: 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.

 

For Mother’s Day, PBS Offers a Grieving Son’s ‘Requiem’ Mass

From PBS for Mother’s Day, “Requiem for My Mother” follows a son trying to deal with the sudden loss of his beloved mother by writing a new choral work for her, a traditional Catholic Requiem Mass — which premiered at the Vatican.

From the inbox:

REQUIEM FOR MY MOTHER

PREMIERES NATIONALLY ON PUBLIC TELEVISION IN MAY 2017

IN CONJUNCTION WITH MOTHER’S DAY

Inspiring Story of the Power of Music to Transcend Loss and Inspire a New Generation

Requiem for My Mother is an award-winning documentary and a compelling musical celebration of life and love, loss and acceptance. The film chronicles the personal journey of prolific Hollywood film score composer Stephen Edwards as he is forced to deal with the sudden loss of his mother, Rosalie Edwards, whose passion for music transformed his life and who was his constant inspiration. To deal with his loss, Edwards channels his anger, passion, sadness, and faith into a major new choral work — a “Requiem,” the traditional Catholic mass for the dead. The film follows the thrilling creation of the piece and the massive preparations leading up to its international premiere at a renowned music festival in Rome’s Vatican City. In collaboration with the Continuo Arts Foundation, along their renowned conductor Candace Wicke, the Requiem goes from a son’s personal lament to a soaring 160-voice choral performance with a 50-piece orchestra, staged in one of the most beautiful and sacred places in the world, the Basilica of St. Ignatius of Loyola in Rome. Directed by Stephen Edwards and David Haugland,Requiem for My Mother premieres nationally on public television in May 2017 (check local listings) in conjunction with Mother’s Day.

The film introduces us to the remarkable Rosalie Edwards, the beautiful daughter of Sicilian-American immigrants, proudly recalled by Edwards as a “typical 1950s glamour girl.” A mother of four, Rosalie was a dedicated musician who instilled her love of music in her children and became their biggest champion. Through vintage photos, old home movies, and interviews with his siblings, Edwards shares his memories of his mother and his Michigan upbringing. Rosalie’s story is intercut with the nerve-wracking preparations for the Requiem’s debut as conductor Wicke, a friend of Rosalie’s, and Edwards travel to rehearsals in Wisconsin, Miami and New York, as amateur choirs from far-flung parishes are painstakingly taught the piece. With time running out, the question looms. Will this massive choir, along with members from the Prague Philharmonic — with only one rehearsal — rise to the occasion for the most important musical moment of Edwards’s life?

A moving personal story as well as a rousing performance film, Requiem for My Mother reminds us of music’s power to transform grief into beauty, healing and hope for the future.

For complete information on the film and to listen to the Requiem, visit http://www.requiemformymother.com/.

Requiem for My Mother is an RFFM production in cooperation with the Continuo Arts Foundation. South Carolina ETV is the presenting station.

For more information, visit: http://www.requiemformymother.com/

Find it on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/requiemformymother/

About Stephen Edwards

Michigan native Stephen Edwards’ music education began at an early age, with training by his mother, Rosalie Edwards, followed by studies at Interlochen Music Camp and Lawrence University, where he was recipient of the “Outstanding Classical Soloist” award sponsored by DownBeat magazine, and selected as a participant in the All-American College Orchestra National Talent Search sponsored by Disney. Mr. Edwards continued his studies at the Dick Grove School of Music in Los Angeles, and immediately started working as a session musician for film and TV composers, such as Mike Post. A prolific composer, Stephen has scored more than 60 movies, from comedy to action, martial arts to documentaries. Recent and upcoming projects include a Dolph Lundgren zombie movie called Dead Trigger, Cops and Robbers with Tom Berenger, and Stoic with Antonio Banderas.

Image: Wikimedia Commons; RFFM Productions/Continuo Arts Foundation; Facebook: RequiemforMyMother (Stephen Edwards)

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.