Faith, Media & Culture

Here’s the latest dispatch from the crossroads of faith and culture:

The broadcast networks have announced their fall schedules. Here are my initial takes on what’s new, night my night (New Shows in Red), from a creative and likelihood to uplift perspective. All times are ET

Mixed-ish (Tuesday, 9:00 PM)

Comment: I’ll take a wait-and-see attitude toward this Black-ish spinoff except to say I think Rainbow would make for a better title. From a Beliefnet perspective, it does take on the subject of impact being raised in a religious cult. For a serious look at that subject, I would suggest the book Spiritual Sobriety: The Promise of Healthy Faith When Good Religion Goes Bad by Elizabeth Esther. Just one more thing, if ABC wants to expand on the Black-ish franchise, why don’t they pickup its Grown-ish spinoff from its smaller cable sibling Freeform.

Emergence (Tuesday, 10 :00 PM)

Comment: The pilot was originally produced for NBC which took a pass.  It strike me as a little like the movie Fargo meets The Twilight Zone. Time will tell whether the interesting premise holds up beyond the pilot.

Stumptown (Wednesday, 10:00 PM)

Comment: Terrible title. Call it The Good Detective and pair it with The Good Doctor. If this works, it could be a female Rockford Files. It it doesn’t, you’re looking at a female version of any of a number of crappy TV private eye shows.

Bob Hearts Abishola (Monday, 8:30 PM)

Comment: Bob Hearts Abishola producer Chuck Lorre (The Big Bang Theory, Young Sheldon, Mom) has proven to be a master at producing comedies with true “heart,” so I’m going to give this one a chance. Lots of potential.

All Rise (Monday, 9:00 PM)

Comment: The original title for All Rise was Courthouse which I think was more solid-sounding. If the writing is good, this could be a classic legal drama like LA Law. If it doesn’t, well, it could be pretentious and suck.

The Unicorn (Thursday, 8:30 PM)

Comment: Right up there with Stumptown in the bad title department. This looks to me like a really poor companion series to the excellent Young Sheldon which will precede it at 8:00 PM and not a particularly good lead-in to the also-excellent Mom. It may play out better than the trailer looks but, for now, this looks like a thumbs down to me.

Carol’s Second Act (Thursday, 9:30)

Comment: A nice hopeful second-start premise. Also, I’m a fan of Patricia Heaton since her days on Everybody Loves Raymond (one of the best domestic sitcoms of all time). She also got a nice long run out of The Middle,  so I would never bet against her when it comes to choosing winning sitcoms.

Evil (Thursday, 10:00 PM)

Comment: I’m just not into this kind of stuff. If you ask me, they should flip the concept. Have the protagonists investigate hope-filled miracles, pair it with God Friended Me on Sunday nights and call it Extraordinary Occurrences. Or reboot NBC and PAX TV’s underrated Mysterious Ways.

The CW
Nancy Drew (Wednesday, 9:00 PM)

Comment: The pilot has the young sleuth putting off going away to college to solve a ghostly mystery in her hometown. To me, it might have been more interesting to send her off to college, solving mysteries from her campus’ student newspaper/website.

Batwoman (Sunday, 8:00 PM)

Comment: Self-consciously dark. What can I say? My favorite Batman is Adam West.


Prodigal Son (Monday, 9:00 PM)
FOX – 8:00 9-1-1 ; 10:00 Prodigal Son

Comment: I’m not generally a fan of shows about serial killers (which, surprisingly, after Dexter, has become something of a genre).

Not Just Me (Wednesday, 9:00 PM)

Comment: A family drama – like The Waltons if Papa Walton was a fertility doctor whose sperm fathered an enormous number of kids.

WWE’s Friday Night Smackdown  (Friday, 8:00 PM)

Comment: So, apparently the WWE is now considered an actual sports franchise. For this, they bumped the successful, faith-friendly and amusing Last Man Standing from its fall perch?

Bless the Heart (Sunday, 8:30 PM)

Comment: This either humorously humanizes or mocks white southerners. It’s all in how you decide to react to it.

Bluff City Law (Monday, 10:00 PM)

Topic: Father and daughter lawyers tackle injustice.  Sounds like The Defenders for a new generation. I like it. Yet another terrible title though. Call it The Underdogs and you have a hit.

Perfect Harmony (Thursday, 8:30 PM)

Comment: If it ups the warmth (without getting schmaltzy) and tones down the temptation to be overly clever, this has potential.

Sunnyside (Thursday, 9:30)

Comment: Plenty of diversity here which is a good thing. I do wonder about the longevity of the premise though.

Here’s the latest dispatch from the crossroads of faith and culture:

Photo Finish wins sci-fi honor. With the broadcast TV Networks considering their pilots for the 2019 fall schedule announcements to made next week (more on those next week), here’s one concept I honestly think has potential for 2020 – especially since it’s sizzle reel recently won a prestigious creative award at the seventh annual Philip K. Dick Science Fiction Film Festival held at Southern California’s Santa Ana Ebell Club.

That’s right. Photo Finish, the Fugitive-meets-Quantum Leap high-concept series executive producer Michael Jue and I co-developed and wrote (off an ingenious premise by Mike) has gotten some terrific recognition that is sparking renewed interest in the show.

The series would follow the adventures of Albert Einstein Sato, an Asian-American scientist, who, after inventing a camera that can photograph the future, finds himself framed for murder and on the run from federal authorities and the power-hungry SiliconValley industrialist intent on using the device for nefarious ends. While eluding capture, Albert often puts his own freedom and safety at risk when his camera (aka the XLR-8) warns him of impending dangers for the people he meets along the way. Why the camera alerts him to take the pictures at precisely the right location is a mystery (and within 12 hours of potential catastrophy) – since the feature wasn’t part of its design. It is, indeed, a mystery that has the agnostic scientist questioning if a benevolent Higher Power could be involved.

The Photo Finish film stars Asian-American actor/stuntman and XMA World Headquarters founder Mike Chat as Albert and the late Meshach Taylor (Designing Women) in one of his final roles as the enigmatic (and, basically,  evil) tech entrepreneur Ethan Fletcher. Michael Brewer (The Last Revolutionary) directed. Giselle M. Finley executive produced with Michael Jue. Madeleine Liebert produced.

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

Here’s the latest dispatch from the crossroads of faith and media:

Tuesday May 21. That’s the date the group RIP Medical Debt (co-founded by US Navy veteran Jerry Ashton and financial expert Craig Antico)  has designated as the next step forward in the campaign to end medical debt as a scourge of American society. Much of that debt is on the backs of US military veterans.  With the help of churches, the group reports that it has abolished over $690 million that was crushing people who did nothing more than commit the crime of getting sick in America.

The May 21 event billed as A Call to End Medical Debt will take place in Washington DC before an audience of lawmakers. The intention is to spotlight the economic ravages of medical debt and to educate federal policymakers and legislators about as both the causes  of and solutions to the nation’s medical debt emergency.

The evening will include data research and testimonials about the devastating impact of medical debt which causes millions of Americans to go bankrupt every year and others to exhaust their life savings. Each member of the house and senate is being given a copy of End Medical Debt – Curing America’s $1 Trillion Unpayable Healthcare Debt prior to this event.

RIP’s mission, something of a religious calling, is to serve the country by charitably removing medical debt from the backs of afflicted Americans and to offer a unique, evidence-based informational resource for lawmakers to assist them in their efforts to understand this problem. The event will also provide an opportunity for healthcare advocates to share their views and bring attention to the importance of their work. This one-time event is  particularly timely in that this new Congress, the 116th Session, will have to act to reauthorize hundreds of healthcare programs that have or will soon expire.

Along with legislators, policy makers and people from government agencies, attendees will include healthcare professionals and innovators who wish to galvanize positive action by this congress. Several major media organizations are planning to attend to report on people who, by way of a “rolling mic” and interviews, will tell their individual stories and outline solutions as they see them. There is no charge for the event, but it is by invitation only.

RIP’s work has been featured in the media, including on NET TV’s Currents News (a program I work on) and on HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. To me it seems a topic worthy of 60 Minutes or CBS Sunday Morning. You can watch the NET TV and HBO segments below.

Here’s the latest dispatch from the crossroads of faith and media:

Compelling and inspirational biographical documentary Hesburgh hits theaters nationwide this weekend (Friday, May 3). I just  had the opportunity to view the film and I have to say I was blown away. A highly-recommended portrait of a kind of bridge-building leader the country could use today. A native of Syracuse, New York Fr. Theodore Hesburgh received numerous honors and awards during his lifetime, including the United States’ Presidential Medal of Freedom (1964) and Congressional Gold Medal (2000). He is best remembered for his consequential leadership of Notre Dame University during some very tumultuous times. He  was a stalwart supporter of human rights and free speech – even when the latter sometimes put him at odds with Vatican conservatives. The documentary itself is informative and moves along crisply, suggesting that some enterprising filmmaker should attempt a dramatic rendering of his story.

Here is the official synopsis of the film: Amidst some of the most tumultuous times in our nation’s history, one unlikely figure finds himself in the eye of the storm as he works to advance the causes of peace and equal rights for all people. He is Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, C.S.C, longtime president of the University of Notre Dame. Hesburgh offers a unique glimpse at more than fifty years of American history. Educator, civil rights champion, advisor to presidents, envoy to popes, theologian and activist, Hesburgh was called on by countless world leaders to tackle the most challenging issues of the day. He built a reputation as a savvy political operator with a penchant for bridging the divide between bitter enemies. Through it all, he remained a man armed with a fierce intelligence, a quick wit and an unyielding moral compass — a timeless example of bipartisan leadership that would serve us well in today’s increasingly polarized times.

The Other Side of Heaven 2: Fire of Faith arrives in theaters on June 28, 2019. That’s nearly two decades ago after the original film (starring Anne Hathaway in her first feature film role) chronicles the real-life saga of American John Groberg, a Mormon missionary (Christopher Gorham of TV’s Ugly Betty and Covert Affairs) who journeyed to Tonga in the 1950’s. Today the movie is seen as something of a pioneering work in the modern faith-based film genre. After its theatrical run, Disney picked it up and sold over 4 million DVDs. Although Hathaway (who played Groberg’s love interest) doesn’t appear in the new film, Gorham (Ugly Betty and Covert Affairs) is reprising his role as Groberg. His wife in the sequel is portrayed by New Zealand actress Natalie Medlock.

The movie hails from Two Road Productions, founded by Mitch Davis in 1995. Both the original film and the sequel were written and directed by Davis who I met when he was promoting his 2017 tearjerker The Stray.  His other films include 2015’s Christmas Eve starring Patrick Stewart and 2008’s Language of the Enemy starring F. Murray Abraham.

Talking about The Other Side of Heaven 2, Davis says “John Groberg’s true-life story among the Tongan people is incredible. It sells itself. But there was so much of that story we were unable to fit into the first installment.”

Official Summary: John Groberg returns to Tonga for his second round of missionary adventures, this time bringing his wife and family. When their son is born critically ill, the Grobergs face the ultimate test of their faith, only to find themselves surrounded by the love and prayers of thousands of Tongans of all denominations. Barriers of interreligious strife (the Grobergs are Mormons) are broken down as an entire nation unites in hopes of a miracle that will save the baby’s life, as well as that of a Tongan minister’s son who is in a coma in an adjacent hospital room.

Thought for the day: Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” – Matthew 11:28-30 (MSG)