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

Cable channels fill broadcast network family movie void. As followed closely here, Walmart and P&G has made a valiant effort in recent years to bring family friendly television back to NBC and Fox via a series of MOW/backdoor pilots airing under the umbrella title Family Movie Night. While noble (and savvy), the effort appears to have fizzled due to lack of interest by either network in really reaching out to traditional family audiences. Sure, they’d take the advertising money and dump the films with almost zero promotion on Saturday nights. Once the broadcast home of TV classics like All in the Family and M*A*S*H, the night in recent years has become a dumping ground for so-called encore telecasts of dark-and-dreary crime dramas. This is because the Saturday night audience is perceived to be made of kids, parents and, perhaps, grandparents. Not exactly the hip crowd network heads fancy themselves as appealing to.

Well, fine. That unwanted audience is going elsewhere — to fast-growing channels like GMC TV and Hallmark whose respective slogans (“Uplifting Entertainment” and “The Heart of TV”) reflect two qualities sorely missing from broadcast these days, namely inspiration and heart.

And advertisers who want to reach those audiences are flocking to those networks too. Specifically, Walmart and P&G have signed on as sponsors of Walden Family Theater which Hallmark will air on Friday nights beginning March 15th.

The first offering will the world premiere Return to Nim’s Island. The film, produced by Walden and ARC Entertainment, stars Bindi Irwin, daughter of the late Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin. The film is a sequel to Walden Media’s 2008 theatrical release Nim’s Island.  The  story picks up the story a few years later with fourteen year old Nim more determined than ever to protect her island and all the wildlife that call it home.  When she faces off against resort developers and animal poachers, she realizes she can’t depend on her animal cohorts alone and must make her first human friend – Edmund, who has run away to the island from the mainland – to save her home. Both films are inspired by the Nim books by Australian author Wendy Orr.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bfz4Y9CTMl0

Return to Nim’s Island is one of six new original family movies currently in the franchise pipeline. The second, slated to air in May, will be Space Warriors, starring Dermot Mulroney, Danny Glover, Josh Lucas, Mira Sorvino and Thomas Horn. In addition to the new films, Walden Family Theater will air a wide variety of existing family movies Hallmark Channel’s vast library.

Talking about the deal, Bill Abbott, president and CEO and Hallmark owner Crown Media Family Networks, says “We at Hallmark Channel could not have asked for better  collaborators for Walden Family Theater than Walmart and P&G, as leading sponsors, and Walden and ARC as producers — these are all brands that share in our passion for and commitment to family entertainment…This collaboration is a 360-degree effort that allows us a unique opportunity to further revive the practice of families regularly gathering to enjoy television entertainment as a shared experience.”

Micheal Flaherty, co-founder of Walden Media adds “Walden Family Theater is a great step forward for us to continue the Walden mission. These great films we are presenting on The Hallmark Channel and/or making with ARC reinforces our vision to provide families a chance to recapture imagination and rekindle curiosity through entertainment. These films will stand side by side with some of our proudest features like our Narnia movies, Holes, Bridge To Terabithia, Amazing Grace and Journey To The Center Of The Earth.”

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

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