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Faith, Media & Culture

Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.

Everybody Loves Patricia. With Everybody Loves Raymond and The Middle, Patricia Heaton has officially joined the lofty ranks of TV stars who have actually managed to follow up one hit prime-time series with another. It’s a relatively short list that included the likes of Mary Tyler Moore (The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Mary Tyler Moore Show), Dick Van Dyke (The Dick Van Dyke Show, Diagnosis: Murder), Bob Newhart (The Bob Newhart Show, Newhart), Andy Griffith (The Andy Griffith Show, Matlock), Tom Selleck (Magnum P.I., Blue Bloods), Tony Danza (Taxi, Who’s The Boss?)  and Michael Landon (Bonanza, Little House on the Prairie and Highway to Heaven). As one of only two women (that I can think of) on the esteemed list, Heaton is genuine trailblazer whose swath of success also extends to producing films like 2006’s Amazing Grace (in conjunction with Walden Media) and the 2012 Hallmark Channel film The Christmas Heart.

I caught up her on the Birmingham, Alabama set of her upcoming faith-based family comedy Moms’ Night Out (directed by October Baby‘s  Erwin Brothers). Besides executive producing the films with her husband and Four Boys Films partner David Hunt, she plays the role of Sondra, the pastor’s wife.  Like here TV shows, the film explores the incredible intersection of love and exasperation that, in a beautiful way, somehow defines what it is to be a family.

JWK: Why’d you want to do Mom’s Night Out?

PATRICIA HEATON: I love comedy and I think that the subject matter of young families trying to navigate their lives, their children and, particularly, their marriage is a great subject for comedy but it’s a serious issue. It’s really, really hard at that time. My boys are all in their teens now but that period — I had my boys from ’93, ’95, ’97 and ’99. It’s funny. When I had my satellite radio on in my car and you know you listen to ’40s on 4 and ’50s on 5 and you get to ’90s on 9 and I remember thinking “I don’t remember a single song what the ’90s! What was going on that I…” And then I go “Oh! ’93, ’95, ’97 and ’99! I was birthing or nursing or something!” So, it’s a hard time for your marriage and your family.

The best way, I think, to sort of get a message across is with humor and I’ve been fortunate, both on Everybody Loves Raymond and now on The Middle, that I get to portray marriage and family in comedy and people get to see themselves portrayed and see their issues portrayed. It’s funny and it sort of gives you encouragement and gives you a laugh. And I haven’t really seen that in feature films — where the whole family can also see the movie.

It seems to me that most comedies now are more for adults and not for kids. It’s hard to find a family comedy that you can take your kids to that’s not an animated movie. It’s like you take the kids to the animated things and then you get to go the other ones. I remember growing up, we saw movies like The Russians Are Coming and It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and The Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines. Like every month there was a family comedy to go to. Those seem to have gone away and I think part of the reason you don’t see so many is they’re harder to do. You have to kind of figure out how to be funny for the whole family.  I was really excited to see that this was happening.

JWK: Running through your work seems to be the idea of very imperfect people who are, at their core, good people. The Barones on Everybody Loves Raymond was a very dysfunctional family but the love they had for each other was definitely there. That same idea is present in The Middle and, from I’m seeing, this film as well. Is the idea of people being flawed but also essentially good something that attracts you to a project?

PH: You know, as far as my acting career goes, it all started so late. I moved to LA when I was 32 and I had no agent and no manager. So, as my makeup artist said, “You’re kind of like the Seabiscuit of actors.” You know, long in the tooth with nothing to show for it. So, when you say what do I look for?, I look for — a job — and it just so happens the jobs I’ve been lucky enough to get happen to (have) these themes — family comedies. And it’s something I just love to do. I’m so blessed that this is what I get to do. It’s so much fun and I think there’s something about being on a comedy. It attracts certain kinds of writers and it attracts certain kinds of actors who are laughing all the time and seeing everything in a humorous way. So, there’s just a sense of jocularity on sets like that and it’s the same with this set.
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Moms’ Night Out is due to hit theaters in 2014. I have more interviews from the set that I’ll be sharing over the next week or two. In the meantime, here’s a classic Patricia Heaton scene from Everybody Loves Raymond — a series, BTW, which, in 2010, garnered a coveted slot on my Ultimate TV Schedule.

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Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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