Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.
In 2011 UPtv launched its Uplift Someone initiative as an extension of the network’s Uplifting Entertainment brand. The goal of the initiative is to encourage and inspire people to do simple acts of kindness to help uplift someone in order to make our world a better place. Since its inception, “Uplift Someone” has provided tornado relief to needed communities and has supported Christian music star Stephen Curtis Chapman’s Show Hope, a non-profit organization created to aid orphans.
This Christmas season, UPtv is building on its initiative with a new campaign called Top Secret Santa. The idea is to demonstrate the true spirit of Christmas by spreading Christmas cheer to families in need and inspiring others to do the same. Selected by a charitable organization in their local community, nine families in five cities (Atlanta, Cleveland, Jacksonville, Dallas and Houston) across the country will get a surprise visit from UP’s Top Secret Santa Patrol team. Each family will receive cash and a customized bounty of much-needed Christmas gifts. UP’s community outreach to the families was aided by Xfinity and Time Warner Cable. In addition, the families were identified for UP by local organizations, including The Center for Family Resources (Atlanta), The Salvation Army (Cleveland), Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Northeast Florida (Jacksonville), Frisco Family Services (Dallas) and Neighborhood Centers, Inc. (Houston).
The initiative complements UP’s holiday programming line-up as it brands itself as America’s Christmas Channel with over 40 days and 400 hours of uplifting original holiday movies, Christmas specials, music and marathons. UP’s in-house creative department will produce Top Secret Santa vignettes that capture the surprise visits. The d uplifting vignettes, designed to have a fun will have a Mission: Impossible meets Publisher’s Clearinghouse Patrol vibe, will air on UP starting December 1 during the UP Premiere Movie Silver Bells (to be reviewed here on Sunday).
I recently spoke with UP Founder and CEO Charley Humbard about how he is using his network to put the Christian values he learned from his father (the late televangelist Rex Humbard) into both word (through UP programming) and practice.
JWK: Is this the first time you’re doing the Top Secret Santa campaign?
CHARLEY HUMBARD: It is.
JWK: I know the campaign is an outgrowth of your Uplift Someone initiative. How important is that initiative to the mission of UPtv? It seems like your trying to put the message of your films and programming into actual practice.
CH: That is really what it is, John…Uplift Someone is a direct extension out of our brand of Uplifting Entertainment. It was our way to put an outreach campaign out there that would help remind people to do little things they could do, to do big things they could do from supporting charities right down to calling your mother who you haven’t talked to in a while,…You know, little things which remind people they are loved…We’ve used it (to help out) when the tornado crisis hit to small simple things (like reminding people) to do small, simple gestures for each other. It’s kind of an all-encompassing outreach around the brand of Uplifting Entertainment.
JWK: Where did the idea for the Uplift Someone campaign come from?
CH: Let me just tell you quickly how it came about. We have a great show on — which is coming back (for a second season) — called Bulloch Family Ranch. It’s about a great couple — Rusty and Julie who run a ranch out in Central Florida (with) their two children. They open their home teenagers to teenagers (who come through and really need a life change in their lives. Rusty and Julie give them a chance to live at the ranch to just really get their lives turned around and put on the right track. Part of what Rusty and Julie were telling me they do at Christmas time is to find a family that’s really in need and Rusty and Julie and the kids out and shop for them — for whatever their needs are. They show up at night and leave presents on their front porch — really, truly being a Secret Santa (and) not taking any of the credit for it. So, when they were telling me that idea I thought what a great thing (that could be) another part of Uplift Someone — to remind people on television that they could do things right there in their communities, their neighborhoods, to help people that are in need.
So, we started Secret Santa this year. Secret Santa is traveling to five markets across the country, helping families with gifts and money and other things. We find out from local communities — churches, Boys & Girls Clubs — what that families need. Secret Santa shows up and really surprises people. It’s an amazing moment we capture for television.
JWK: This is interstitial programming?
CH: At first, they will air around our movies. It is interstitial programming. Hopefully, maybe by next year, we’ll turn it into a whole special…Two elves go out in the Secret Santa Christmas Mobile and travel the country that way and go to the families’ homes…We have a television crew on hand…when Secret Santa shows up. We capture the real moment. Again, it’s just our way of reminding people…that they should do and can do something very simple (to help others).
JWK: Can people go online and read more about this?
CH: Yes, the can go to uptv.com/uplift.
JWK: Turning to UP programming, you guys are really in there with Christmas programming. This Sunday at 7:00 PM (ET) you’re airing Silver Bells, a traditional family movie starring Bruce Boxleitner. And then then following week at the same time you’re premiering a movie called Guess Who’s Coming to Christmas with Drew Lachey and Mackenzie Porter. While they’re both obviously suitable for the whole family I did notice that Guess Who’s Coming to Christmas — with its romance between a rock star and a twentysomething woman — seemed geared particularly toward the young adult audience — rather than just, say, parents and their kids.
CH: Our target is women 25 to 54. Many of those women, naturally, are moms with families and teenagers at home. So, we do try to make more and more content now — more movies and series such as Bulloch Family Ranch that target the same age group.
JWK: It seems to me that you guys at UP, along with Hallmark, are really cornering the market on the sort of positive programming — particularly at Christmastime — that you used to find on the broadcast networks.
CH: Well, you know, John, we started as Gospel Music Channel…At that point we established for ourselves that we were going to become America’s Christmas Channel. For us, we do Christmas for our viewers in a way that other channels don’t necessarily do it. We celebrate it with great Christmas music, Christian music. As well, the kind of movies that we have are Christmas but also certainly have a very strong faith connection for our viewers.
JWK: Are they any particular movies or specials coming up that you’d like to tell our readers about?
CH: We have 400 hours of Christmas programming…So, I could be here a long time. Over 40 days, 400 hours. I think another one that your readers will want to look out for is the K-LOVE Music City Christmas…That’s coming up on December 9th at 8:00 PM (ET). That will be a fantastic show.
JWK: You recently aired a Joel Osteen special with Susan Boyle. How did that do?
CH: It did pretty well for us, actually…It was the first time Susan Boyle had the chance to perform songs from (the new movie) The Christmas Candle on national television. So, we were really excited to get the opportunity to air that. We’ve been looking for ways to be in partnership with Joel who does, at least, quarterly specials. It’s especially great when we can bring in music as well.
JWK: Why do you think the broadcast networks have, with a few exceptions such as NBC’s Christmas in Rockefeller Center and repeats of classic animated ratings-getters like A Charlie Brown Christmas and Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer, almost entirely walked away from Christmas-themed programming? Where, for instance, are this generation’s Bing Crosby specials or even warm Christmas episodes of regular series?
CH: Generally, I guess you could say they’ve abandoned programming that has any kind of a faith or values tie to it, as well. The Waltons, 7th Heaven, Touched by an Angel — they don’t make those kind of shows anymore, even modern-day versions of those. It’s just really that the networks have gone away from that. So, there again, is why we are such a valued network by your readers and others. We’re a place where they can go to 24 hours a day and get that kind of great programming.
JWK: So, in a sense, the networks — by going dark and edgy — have created a space and opportunity for you guys.
CH: That’s right.
JWK: Recent polls suggest that Americans just aren’t as optimistic about the future as they used to be. That’s a shift from the past — when Americans have pretty much been known for their optimism. How much of that shift do you think has to do with the entertainment — movies and television — that is being put out into the culture?
CH: I think it’s a combination of a lot of things. I think the economy over the last five to seven years has been very difficult. Combine that with the constant onslaught of violence and negativity (in the) media — you turn on the news and there are not a lot of positive things going on. If you turn on prime-time television, it’s pretty violent, pretty negative. There are a few shows that breakout (of that) and are good but, in general, it’s not where most of the networks have chosen to go for their programming. Yeah, I think it’s a combination of factors. I certainly think the most powerful medium in the history of the world has a giant impact on the negativity…you’re finding in polls.
JWK: Can positive entertainment and storytelling actually reverse that tide?
CH: I don’t think it can do it alone but it certainly can have a powerful impact…Hopefully, the economy gets fixed…but, part of what we like to do is not only provide Uplifting Entertainment for our viewers but also, in the process, uplift entertainment — and prove to producers, networks and others out there making content (that) you can make positive, uplifting programming…and have a very successful business. If think (for) your readers, what’s really important is what we like to say around here which is “Vote with our remote.” They can vote with their remote. The more they watch good programming when they find it, the better it will be because advertisers will spend more money (on it) and make better programming. We watch more negative shows then they make more negative shows.
JWK: In my view, which I’ve written about before, I actually think it’s an illusion created, in part, by the creative use of demographics, to make it appear that the mainstream audience wants dark, violent and cynical programming. In my view, it’s you guys that are closer to the mainstream than the broadcast networks.
CH: I don’t disagree with you. I’d love to get into variety shows and specials like the old days. I think there’s a huge market for it today.
JWK: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
CH: I’d just remind people of two things. One, it’s Thanksgiving time and it is better to give than to receive. (We need to) uplift others and remind them they are love. God loves them…There are so many families (that need help). It doesn’t take something big. Something small can make a big difference to people.
(Regarding television), I think I’d also like to remind people it’s about voting with your remote. If you want good programming like (shows offered by) UP, watch more of it. It’s good for you and will be highly entertaining and enjoyable but it will also help more programming like that get made.
Note: Tomorrow I’ll publish a full guide to UP’s Christmas programming.
Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11