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:

BEST COMEDY

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.

BEST DRAMA

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.

TELEVISION  MOVIE

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.

UNSTRUCTURED REALITY PROGRAM

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.

REALITY COMPETITION SHOW

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.

Monks of Norcia: Benedictine Brothers Bet on Beer to Overcome Earthquake Devastation

In honor of the July 11 Feast of Saint Benedict of Nursia (a k a Norcia), let’s check in with the Monks of Norcia, who became world-famous for their Gregorian-chant CD, “Benedicta,” which came out in 2015.

But becoming international music superstars didn’t insulate them from the ravages of nature, in the form of powerful earthquakes that struck their region in Umbria in August and October of 2016. Hundreds of people were killed, many more displaced, and the monks’ home, the 14th-century Basilica of St. Benedict, was destroyed.

Here’s how they describe themselves on their Website:

The Monastery of San Benedetto in Monte is perched above the ancient town of Nursia, birthplace of St. Benedict, founder of Western monasticism.

The Monks of Norcia, who have called the city home since the year 2000, were forced to begin work on a new, seismic-resistant monastery on site of their old monastic grange when a series of devastating earthquakes destroyed their church and home in town in 2016.

The international community of monks who live there are committed to living according to the ancient observance of the Rule of St. Benedict and understand this otherwise tragic moment in history as a call from God to deepen their vocation as men of prayer, conversion, study and manual labor, and to prefer nothing to the love of Christ.

But music alone is not enough to make the monks self-supporting, as is called for in the Rule of Saint Benedict, who wanted his monastics to live by the work of their hands. The Monks of Norcia took up the brewing of beer called Birra Nursia, which landed in the U.S. in the spring of 2016 — only months before the quakes.

Amazingly, the quakes spared the brewery, so the monks are counting on thirsty customers buying in stores and online to help rebuild their monastery and their mission to the surrounding area and the world.

From The New York Times:

Led by Father Folsom, who is the prior emeritus, the monks now number 15. They learned beer-making from experienced Trappist brewmasters in Belgium, and began to make Nursia in 2012. The beer’s name was chosen “specifically to help the townspeople, rather than naming it after St. Benedict,” Father Nivakoff said.

“We wanted people to identify the beer with the town,” and to help support it, he added.

Brother Augustine Wilmeth, who was born in South Carolina and serves as the brewmaster, said Nursia was “the only monastic beer in the world that is made exclusively by the monks.”

Other monastic brewing operations, he explained, have grown into milliondollar enterprises with many workers. In Norcia, the monks do everything themselves, producing around 10,000 bottles each month.

Meet Father Folsom, on EWTN’s “The Journey Home”:

And when you have some extra time, here’s a whole documentary, from the pre-quake days in 2012 …

Here’s to hoping they find the time to produce some more beautiful music for the world.

Images: Courtesy Monks of Norcia

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.

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 Amazon.com (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.

‘Catholic Central’ Star and Saint Pope John Paul II’s Letter to Artists

This fall, we’re launching a new Web series, called “Catholic Central,” to teach about the Faith in fast and funny short episodes that are both entertaining and informing — “enter-forming,” if you will — and our hosts are Kaiser Johnson and Libby Slater.

Both Minnesotans, Johnson and Slater are multitalented actors, writers and producers. Slater is also a graduate of John Paul the Great Catholic University, near San Diego, California, a relatively new school that, among other things, specializes in training students in all aspects of media.

Back in 2014, the school produced a video in which a group of students recited sections of Saint Pope John Paul II’s 1999 Letter to Artists, in which the pontiff — himself an actor in his younger days — spoke to hearts and souls of musicians, actors, painters, sculptors, writers, etc.

This mirrors what’s been going on in our in-house studio, as writers, actors, producers and crew people assemble to shoot new episodes of “Catholic Central” — which we’ll be doing again next week, in advance of a Sept. 15 launch.

Here’s the trailer:

And here’s Libby and her former fellow students in the video, released in 2014 to coincide with John Paul’s canonization. Watch closely for a fresh-faced Libby:

Click here for the full text of the Letter to Artists, and here’s a taste:

Society needs artists, just as it needs scientists, technicians, workers, professional people, witnesses of the faith, teachers, fathers and mothers, who ensure the growth of the person and the development of the community by means of that supreme art form which is “the art of education”. Within the vast cultural panorama of each nation, artists have their unique place. Obedient to their inspiration in creating works both worthwhile and beautiful, they not only enrich the cultural heritage of each nation and of all humanity, but they also render an exceptional social service in favour of the common good.

The particular vocation of individual artists decides the arena in which they serve and points as well to the tasks they must assume, the hard work they must endure and the responsibility they must accept. Artists who are conscious of all this know too that they must labour without allowing themselves to be driven by the search for empty glory or the craving for cheap popularity, and still less by the calculation of some possible profit for themselves. There is therefore an ethic, even a “spirituality” of artistic service, which contributes in its way to the life and renewal of a people. It is precisely this to which [Polish poet and dramatist] Cyprian Norwid seems to allude in declaring that “beauty is to enthuse us for work, and work is to raise us up.”

This past May, the National Catholic Register published a reflection on the Letter to Artists. The whole thing can be found here, but this is one particularly illuminating passage:

Those of us have felt that artistic “spark” brimming within us — those of us that love to write, to create, to paint, draw and sing — would do well to heed the call upon our souls that this Letter speaks of.

This spark is something divine – let us keep it that way. It is something God has endowed us with, and whether we always acknowledge it or not, it still belongs to him. Let us keep it sacred and use it to set the world on fire for Christ.

But to do this, an artist doesn’t always have to be obvious about it. Father Vince Kuna, C.S.C., who’s just joined us on staff at Family Theater, is both a Holy Cross priest and a filmmaker. I asked him about the Letter, and here’s what he wrote back:

JPII’s Letter to Artists encourages Catholics to evangelize through Beauty. Hopefully, this leads to openness to Truth and the Good. My own prayer is that artists may do so, subtly and with veiled language as Jesus did — in some stories and parables he doesn’t even mention “God.”

So, if you want to praise God directly in your art, have at it. But, also know that there are many ways to lead people to the light of Christ, and it takes true talent to do it without your audience even realizing they’re being evangelized.

Images: Courtesy Kate O’Hare for Family Theater Productions/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.

[pause]

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 MentalFloss.com:

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.

‘Silence’ Star and Former Marine Adam Driver Fulfills a Wish for a Veteran’s Family

Adam Driver came from a small Midwestern town to L.A. with dreams of acting. When that didn’t work out, he volunteered for the Marines shortly after Sept. 11, 2001. He met people from all over the country, from different walks of life, and found a band of brothers.

An mountain-biking injury prevented him from being able to deploy to the front with his unit, but he did go on to have a career as an actor. Most recently, he’s playing Kylo Ren in the Disney “Star Wars” movies, and played the Jesuit priest who didn’t become an apostate in 17th-century Japan in Martin Scorsese’s movie “Silence.”

This summer, Budweiser is honoring those who, like Driver, wore the uniform of their country, by partnering with Folds of Honor, a foundation that provides scholarships to the families of wounded and fallen service members.

Here’s how the foundation describes itself:

Since 2007, the Folds of Honor has carried forth this singular, noble mission. To provide educational scholarships to spouses and children of America’s fallen and disabled service-members.

Our motto says it best.

Honor Their Sacrifice.  Educate Their Legacy.

Last week, Budweiser posted this video to its Facebook page, in which Driver visits the home of a fellow veteran. The man’s daughter wrote to Folds of Honor, talking about her father’s service, his guilt over — like Driver — being prevented from deploying because of injury, and how she is struggling to finance her education.

I’ve always thought the best use of celebrity and business success is to turn around and use both to help people. As we remember those who risked life, liberty and sacred honor to found our country this Fourth of July, it’s great to see that Driver and Budweiser are making good use of their blessings.

Get a hankie.

And if you want to hear more about Driver’s military experiences, here you go (there’s also a dramatic reading after Driver’s talk, with some very rough language).

Image: Courtesy Budweiser/Folds of Honor

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.