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Faith, Media & Culture

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

Season 12 0f Heartland premieres on SVOD and the UP app on July 25th.

Rising UP. Heartland, based on a series of books by Lauren Brooke, debuted on Canada’s CBC on October 14, 2007 and has since gone on to become that country’s longest-running domestically-produced hour-long TV drama series. The heartwarming drama, which nonetheless tackles hard issues like drug and alcohol abuse, follows the journey of a complex-but-loving family as they face life on a Canadian ranch. It’s essentially uplifting tone makes it a perfect fit for UP TV which holds the rights to the show’s US distribution. The show has been a big success for the UPstart American cable network and its values-friendly UP Faith and Family streaming service.

UP, which also airs original TV movies and series like Our Wedding Story (an unscripted chronicle of real-life weddings and the love stories behind them), the long-running family reality show Bringing Up Bates and reruns of hit family-oriented broadcast shows like Fresh Off the Boat, Reba, Gilmore Girls and Home Improvement. UP also airs reruns of the hit sci-fi series The Librarians that include scenes that never aired during its original TNT run.

The man behind it all is its founder and CEO Charley Humbard. The former senior executive at Discovery Networkss and son of the late televangelist Rex Humbard founded UP in 2004 as the more overtly religious Gospel Music Channel. In 2013, the network was redubbed UP TV with a mission to bring the uplifting Christian message to people of all faiths and no faith via quality programming entertains, informs and inspires. The growing network (now available in north of 70-million US homes) also operates the aforementioned UP Faith and Family streaming service and, with Magic Johnson, is a partner in the African-American themed Aspire cable channel. Humbard’s continuing commitment to the values of his faith is also reflected in UP’s UPlift Someone video series promoting simple acts of kindness which has found viral popularity.

I recently has the opportunity to chat with Humbard about his goals for UP TV.

JWK: Why is UP important?

CHARLEY HUMBARD: Our purpose is to inspire people to be better – to uplift you every day, whether through our cable channel or our streaming service.

JWK: You don’t think the other channels strive to do that?

CH: They’ll occasionally do a This is Us but then turn right around and do something dark. They’ll do inspirational programming in spurts. We do it consistently  because it’s in our DNA.

JWK: Over the years, UP TV has moved to create more toward original programming. Of all your original programming, do you have a favorite?

CH: Picking a favorite is hard but, if pressed, I guess I’d single out Bringing Up Bates. I’ve grown to love that family. I’ve gotten to know each of them and they are the real deal. Most of us aren’t going to have 19 kids but the wonderful way they treat each other is fascinating. I think with marriages and grandkids, there is something like 30 of them now. It’s a great show and available on any device you can find our network.

JWK: Who do you see as UP’s chief competition?

CH: Probably Hallmark and Lifetime and some of the bigger broadcasters. We do a lot of romantic movies like Hallmark but I think we also do more faith and family-oriented programming. We always strive to put out programming that is authentic and organic to who we are. We won’t surprise you with inappropriate sex or violence. But we will deal with real-life issues – like teen drug use and pregnancy.We respect our audience who we call “Uplifters.” They want content that shares their values and we give it to them because we share their values too.

JWK: You’ve had a lot of success with the Canadian import Heartland. You’ve also taken some good swings at original scripted family dramas produced first for UP, shows like Ties That Bind with Kelli Martin and the late Luke Perry, as well as Date My Dad with Barry Watson. Do you have any plans to add any UP original dramatic series to your lineup?

CH: There are no plans right now but that is something we certainly could return to in the future.

JWK: And, finally, how’s the future looking for UP?

CH: Good! The streaming service continues to grow and is adding subscribers at a healthy rate. The cable channel is also doing well. We’re upping our investment in movies. You can, perhaps, expect to see some UP theatrical films in the future.  We enjoy serving our audience in whatever venue we can.

Blogger’s Note: Anyone who has read this blog knows that I am a big fan of UP’s work and mission. You may also know my own professional background involves some time producing segments for a talk show that ran on the faith-friendly PAX TV broadcast network until both the show and the network disappeared in 2005. In a sense, UP TV is smartly accomplishing the dream of the late PAX founder Bud Paxson to create a successful mainstream TV network that is friendly to the values of positive faith. So, I’d actually kinda love to see UP mine some of PAX’s under-viewed dramas for content – because some of them were actually pretty good and deserve to be seen. Shows that come to mind include the fish-out-of-water medical drama Doc (starring suddenly-hot-again Billy Ray Cyrus), the quirky Hope Island (based on the British hit Ballykissangel) and my personal favorite Mysterious Ways (which aired briefly on NBC and stars Adrian Pasdar of Heroes). Just a thought from neighborhood Masked Programmer.

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

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