A great “get”! WABC Radio host Rita Cosby, who I used to work with Fox News and whose excellent book I reviewed here,  was granted a rare audience with Pope Francis at the Vatican in Rome last Wednesday (6/4), becoming one of the first American journalists to talk with the new Pontiff.

With the Pope set to host a historic meeting (dubbed a “prayer summit”) between Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at his Vatican apartment, she asked the pontiff about his possible role as Mideast peacemaker. The meeting is the result of a surprise invitation Francis extended to both men during his recent pilgrimage to the Middle East, a visit that included the celebration of Mass in Bethlehem’s Manger Square.

Although she has interviewed more than 20 world leaders, including five US Presidents, Cosby called the opportunity to speak to Pope Francis one of the greatest moments of her life, adding “He was extremely engaging and approachable. It is clear he cares deeply about peace in the Mideast and would like to do anything he can to assist this very difficult process.” Broadcasting from Rome, Cosby talked about her conversation (and even played a portion of it) on The Ride Home, the radio show she co-hosts with Pat Kiernan on WABC Radio in New York. You can listen to the broadcast here.

Eastland School reunion. It’s not quite as historic as the Francis-Peres-Abbas get-together but Facts of Life alumnae Lisa Whelchel and Kim Fields will reunite in For Better Or For Worse, a Hallmark Channel Original Movie airing Saturday, July 19th @ 9:00 PM (ET). The romantic comedy is an adaptation of the bestselling novel of the same name by Diann Hunt.  Antonio Cupo (Hats Off To Christmas!), Edward Ruttle (Christmas Rescue) and Alicia Josipovic (Degrassi: The Next Generation) will co-star.

Synopsis (from Hallmark Channel): Opposites attract when Wendy (Whelchel) a wedding coordinator and Marco (Cupo) a divorce attorney find their lives suddenly intertwined.  Wendy is finally settling into the single life after struggling with the death of her husband.  After a difficult season of grief, she’s taken over the family business of coordinating the town’s most beautiful and memorable weddings with the help of her friend and co-worker Roseanne (Fields).  Wendy’s business and values are challenged, however, when the charming and incredibly irritating Marco opens shop as a divorce attorney right next to her wedding chapel.  Although Wendy will stop at nothing to promote her marriage business over Marco’s divorce business, she must form an alliance with Marco after her son Collin (Ruttle) announces his unexpected engagement to Marco’s daughter Sophia (Josipovic).  As Wendy grows closer to Marco, she begins to realize that if she shields herself from the pain of love lost, she may prevent herself from experiencing true love in the future.

 “For Better or For Worse” is a Better Productions Inc production.  Tim Johnson and Maura Dunbar are the executive producers. Oliver De Caigny is the producer.  Marita Grabiak directs from a script by Barbara Kymlicka. Based on the bestselling novel For Better Or For Worse written by Diann Hunt.

Michelle Vicary, Executive Vice President, Programming for Hallmark Channel and Hallmark Movie Channel, describes the repairing of Whelchel and Fields as “a big TV event,” adding that Hallmark Channel is the perfect place to see these iconic stars together again.”

Sounds like fun. And, given Hallmark’s recent series success with shows like When Calls the Heart, Cedar Cove and Signed, Sealed, Delivered, it could even have series potential.

UP TV has announced that its original movie Comeback Dad will have a special premiere at Film Life’s 18th Annual American Black Film Festival (ABFF) in New York City on Saturday, June 21 at 4:30 PM (ET) at the SVA Theater.  Comeback Dad is the fourth UP film to be produced as a direct result of the network’s highly successful UP Faith & Family Screenplay Competition. The script is by newcomer Kimberly Walker, the Honorable Mention Winner in last year’s contest.  Last year’s grand prize screenplay winning script tentatively titled Mary Jo’s Candy is scheduled to go into production in June and will premiere later this year on UP.

Synopsis (from UP TV): Nima Babineaux (Tatyana Ali) looks like a woman who has it all – she is an accomplished pianist who runs her own music school and is engaged to Spence (Brad James), a successful engineer who adores her.  But, in truth, she has never recovered from her alcoholic father, Othell (Charles Dutton), walking out on their family and it has made it hard for her to truly trust anyone.  When Othell decides it is time to make amends and tries to reenter her life, Nima begins an emotional and eye-opening journey she could have never expected.

Comeback Dad stars Charles S. Dutton (Rudy), Tatyana Ali (Love That Girl!) and Brad James (UP’s Marry Me for Christmas) and Loretta Devine (UP’s Saving Westwood High).  The movie is directed and executive produced by nationally-syndicated radio host/writer/producer/director Russ Parr (The Undershepherd, 35 and Ticking) and produced by Swirl Films.  Filmed in Atlanta, Comeback Dad will debut on UP on Saturday, July 12.

One more thing: A Nielsen study commissioned by UP TV in cooperation with MediaVest confirms that the relationship viewers have with family-friendly media outlets can benefit advertisers. The study finds that viewers have greater trust and stronger purchase intent for brands advertised in family-friendly programming environments. The study, which quantifies the number of viewers seeking family-friendly programming as approximately 42 million, finds an extremely high correlation of 90% between networks that are considered family-friendly and trust.

 “This in-depth study confirms the value of family-friendly audiences as previously identified in studies done by the Association of National Advertisers and others,” according to UP Senior Research V.P. Ron Plante. “At the same time,” he adds, “it goes beyond validating what we already believed and sheds new light on an issue that, at its core, addresses how brands can maximize their TV budgets.”

MediaVest Executive V.P.  David Shiffman notes that “From a human understanding perspective, the study identifies and quantifies the significant consumer appetite and need for family-friendly content, which demands the continued support of the entire ecosystem, including content producers, distributors, agencies and marketers. Equally important, the findings demonstrate the business and brand value of family-friendly programming. This play is not just goodwill. It shows practices that are good business, offering a powerful way for brands to deliver the kind of meaningful experiences consumers are seeking.”

The study identifies three types of TV viewers. “Family Viewers” are much more likely to seek wholesome programming for watching in a group or family setting. They watch shows that are in sync with their values and they want to be informed, inspired and uplifted by the shows they watch. “Reality Escapists” prefer watching television on their own and perceive bad or flighty behavior on TV as entertaining as long as it is lighthearted. Finally “Blurred Lines” are viewers who desire programs that push the limits and are often are often characterized by explicit language and graphic content. “Blurred Lines” viewers are the exact opposite of “Family Viewers” in that they do not look for programming that validates their own life views.

The bottom line is that the higher degree of trust viewers place in family-friendly networks is likely to play a key role in advertising perceptions and receptivity. Compared to ads in a non-family-friendly environment, ads on family-friendly networks were perceived as more trustworthy (+53%), credible (+39%) and relevant (+53%). Viewers also report that they are more likely to act on ads seen in a family-friendly environment.  Intentions to shop at stores advertised (+25%) and buy advertised products and service (+44%) were significantly higher among viewers to family-friendly networks.

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

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