Dolly Parton and Netflix: Is There Hope for ‘Family’ TV?

Dolly-Parton-Christmas-ColorsPreviously in this blog, I discussed some new OTT (Over the Top)/SVOD (Subscription Video on Demand) services offering exclusively family-suitable fare, from PureFlix and Dove Channel/Cinedigm. These services don’t just feature programs that are geared to children, but shows that truly can be enjoyed by both kids and adults — what TV now calls co-viewing.

And those are increasingly rare, especially in primetime cable and broadcast television.

Families still have many unscripted shows to fall back on, whether it’s Fox’s “MasterChef Jr.” (the popularity of the adult version with youngsters led to its creation), NBC’s “American Ninja Warrior,” or a variety of shows on Discovery Channel, Science Channel, National Geographic Channel, HGTV, DIY, PBS and Food Network.

While I can’t report that there are any primetime scripted network series that I could recommend to for co-viewing, there are occasional bright spots. Last December, NBC scored more than 15M total viewers for its movie version of “Dolly Parton’s Coat of Many Colors,” based on the autobiographical song of the same name.

Now, the network is planning a second one, “Dolly Parton’s Christmas of Many Colors: Circle of Love,” planned for the upcoming holiday seasons.

From Entertainment Weekly:

Director Stephen Herek will be back, as well as the original cast: Alyvia Alyn Lind as young Dolly, Jennifer Nettles as her mother Avie Lee Parton, Ricky Schroder as father Robert Lee Parton, and Gerald McRaney as Rev. Jake Owens. The plot will follow the Parton family at Christmastime, as a sudden blizzard threatens their rural Tennessee livelihood. Amidst the snow, Dolly’s father finally tries to raise enough money for the wedding ring he couldn’t afford, while Dolly’s musical talent starts attracting attention.

“I was so overwhelmed and touched by how many people watched Coat of Many Colors and their reaction to it,” Parton said in a statement. “The song ‘Coat of Many Colors,’ of course, has always been my favorite and has touched so many people through the years, especially me. It is a true story from a very special time in my childhood. I am so happy to share this story with the viewers and to say there is so much more to tell because mine truly has been a life of many colors. I hope the viewers will fall in love all over again.”

Also, during the ongoing Television Critics Association Press Tour here in Los Angeles, there was a press conference featuring Ted Sarandos, chief content officer for SVOD streaming service Netflix.

It announced a new children’s series called “Beat Bugs,” which launched Aug. 3 (and will be reviewed in a blog post later this week) and features contemporary versions of Beatles songs (a second season is planned for November). And that’s not all from “Beat Bugs” producer Josh Wakely.

From Sarandos:

We’re delighted that [Wakely] is also teaming up with Smokey Robinson to create an all new Netflix animated series for families that brings to life 52 iconic Motown songs. Contemporary artists, curated by Smokey Robinson himself, will perform hits from greats like Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, and Lionel Richie. For those of you with young ones at home, there’s a pretty good chance that you own one of the New York Times best selling Llama Llama books. Next year it’s fun to say, “Llama Llama,” too.

Next year we’ll launch a TV series based on these beloved stories, and I’m pleased to tell you that we found our “Mama Llama” in the talented and real life mom of three Jennifer Garner. She has told us that she basically has been practicing this role for the past decade. Her kids have all grown up on the books, and we can’t wait to see these characters come to life on screen for the first time.

Lastly on the kids and family front, I’m personally very excited about our epic new franchise “Trollhunters” from master storyteller Guillermo del Toro and DreamWorks Animation. Guillermo has created a whole new fantastical world in his first ever animated series. It will blow people away when it debuts on Netflix later this year.

There’s also nonfiction on the horizon:

And in collaboration with Silverback Films and the World Wildlife Foundation, “Our Planet” is an ambitious four-year project, the largest of its kind ever, bringing millions of people into intimate contact with some of the rarest animals and most isolated natural habitats. From the ice caps and deep oceans to deserts and remote forests, the eight part documentary series highlights the most precious species and places at a critical time in global conservation. The series is set to debut on Netflix in 2019.

But what about scripted programming that can be enjoyed by the whole family, that’s not just geared to youngsters?

I asked Sarandos about that, and this is what he said.

Well, I think we’ve got “Fuller House” as an example of just one, and I think you will find also with the “One Day at a Time” reboot, these are really meant for co-viewing. They kind of bring you back to a time when people used to be able to watch television shows together without being incredibly embarrassed with one another, and we’re going to be pushing a lot more of that, so there’s not a specific strategy to saying we’re going to do this and not do that. We’re really looking for great stories that are geared to a broad swath of the population, and co-viewing is an important segment of that, and we’re looking for more of it for sure.

So, be careful and preview shows before allowing kids to watch, but it’s heartening to see that some of the newest ways to watch TV are reaching back to an era when whole families could sit down together and watch a show.

Image: Courtesy NBC

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.