Here’s the latest from the crossroads of faith, media & culture: 05/18/22

This is the big week in May that the broadcast networks traditionally unveil their fall schedules to advertisers. NBCUniveral and Fox went first on Monday with Fox actually breaking tradition by announcing its new and returning shows but not putting forth the time slots they will occupy. The theory seems to be that in an era when streaming is taking center stage (Disney+/ABC unveiled yesterday; Paramount+/CBS went today) who cares about time slots anyway. The CW, probably in its final days before a possible takeover by NewsNation owner Nexstar, goes tomorrow. IMHO, that Nexstar will likely result in thecreation of the first all-news broadcast network and all those (tired) DC superhero shows heading over to HBO Max.

For its part, NBC’s big new offering is a sequel to the sci-fi time-travel classic Quantum Leap starring Raymond Lee as Dr. Ben Prassad,  described as a first-generation American, world-renowned physicist and a man of faith who, like Scott Bakula‘s Dr. Sam Beckett before him, steps into the Quantum Leap accelerator and vanishes. Co-starring are Caitlin Bassett as Addison, the “smart, witty, fearless” (and no doubt kick-ass) ex-military operative who now serves as a project lead at Quantum Leap HQ, Mason Alexander Park as Ian Wright, the nonbinary chief architect of Quantum Leap’s AI program and Ernie Hudson as Herbert “Magic” Williams, as a Vietnam vet Sam Beckett encountered encountered in a Season 3 episode of the original Quantum Leap and who now heads the Quantum Leap project.
IMHO: Quantum Leap is one of those shows that is truly beloved by fans (including me). If you’re going to continue the story and “make right what once went wrong” by having Sam finally return home, you would be well advised to build on the path organically suggested by the original series. If they would have asked me (and other fans), the new series should follow Sammy Jo Fuller, the child conceived by Sam in a three-part Season 5 episode and who, as the trilogy concludes, we learn is a Quantum Leap Project technician working on finding a way to bring him home. Her character, who is not even listed in character manifest I’ve seen, should actually be the focus of the sequel. It’s great that the new lead character is described as a man of faith, and having the “Magic” Williams connection to the original series is a nice touch, but the overall focus of the show, in my view, remains amiss. It’s too early to say but the worry is that the Woke sensibility will end up doing to the heartfelt and optimistic original Quantum Leap what it has already done to Star Trek and Star Wars.

As many fans of both those franchises (as well as other iconic cultural touchstone like Superman, the Marvel Universe [ink language alert]) will tell you, the problem with the new iterations is that, instead of celebrating and building on concepts and characters that resonate with the public and build bridges between generations, arrogant people at arrogant corporations take properties they didn’t create and twist them into essentially demoralizing opposite versions of what came before them. Here’s a great case-in-point comparison between an episode of the the classic Star Trek: The Next Generation and this Short Treks edition of Paramount+’s parody of itself Star Trek: Discovery. To paraphrase Bob Dylan, where have all the writers gone?

There you see Star Trek‘s original ethos of kindness, optimism and tolerance inverted into one of the sort of smugness, intolerance and arrogant superiority currently found all too much in our political discourse.

There are signs of hope, of course. Netflix, for example, in the wake of the recent Dave Chappelle kerfuffle, is finally telling its Woke employees that they work for the subscribers and don’t get to decide for everyone else what can be seen. That’s great, of course, but, like traditional broadcast networks, Netflix is currently suffering from audience erosion ironically brought on both by increased competition (which should lead to more diversity of sensibilities) and Woke groupthink in which everybody seems to be coming at everything from one lecturing vantage point.

The question to me is what does a real broadcasting network/streamer look like as we look like in 2022 and the seasons going forward.? By that I mean, what exactly is the wider American (and even world) audience really looking for?

The answer, I believe, is something akin to what the broadcast networks of the seventies provided. First of all they were free (with, sometimes, clever commercials). Beyond that, the networks were run by genuine show people who were intent on pleasing and entertaining the viewers, not lecturing them. The dramas and sitcoms were engaging and often thought-provoking but never deliberately insulting of the faith and patriotic values of the audience. Besides series they offered a wide mix of variety shows, original movies and big-budget miniseries, as well as wholesome and educational kid shows (sans Woke messaging). They also offered news and documentary programming that could be hard hitting but leaned toward the values of classical liberalism, including, kindness, tolerance, less obsession over differences and more optimism about the future. Such a network would capture the current media-stifled cultural zeitgeist, tap into a hugely under-served audience and fulfill a genuine societal need.

All that said, the type of network/streamer we here at JWK Media believe is best positioned to do that is Fox because, as I’ve previously written,  it’s already doing so with its cable news network. On top of that, its Fox News Books division continues to deliver strong sales. Since the imprint debuted in November 2020, Fox News Books has published four titles, each of which reached national bestseller status. Collectively, Modern Warriors (Nov. 2020), The Women of the Bible Speak (March 2021), All American Christmas (November 2021) and The Mothers and Daughters of the Bible Speak (March 2022) have sold more than 1 million copies to date and continue to deliver strong sales. Meanwhile, the Fox Broadcasting network is not dominant in its space. It seems to this observer that it would stand to benefit by building on the phenomenal brand.

With that in mind, here are some humble ideas for next year’s schedule.

The Fox Report with Kevin Corke (Weeknights, 7:00 PM/ET)
An hour-long news program with broadcast-level funding would make for a great kick-up to the network’s prime-time lineup that would reinforce its association with Fox News.  Smart, professional and currently underutilized Kevin Corke would make a great primary anchor. David Rhodes, who began his career at Fox News was also responsible for the excellent albeit under-promoted CBS Evening News with Jeff Glor and has built a well-deserved reputation for balanced journalism, would make an excellent executive producer. Aside from using the deep bench of talent at Fox News, the newscast might also employ the use of thoughtful commentary you would not hear on the other broadcast network newscasts, such as from John Stossell and Jason Siler.

Hollywood Squares (Weeknights, 11:00 PM/ET)
Canceled Bachelor host Chris Harrison emcees a reboot of the classic game show. Put Roseanne in the center square surrounded by such other on-the-outs stars such as Gina Carano, Kirstie Alley, Tim Allen and Sharon Osbourne. The casting itself would send a message that it’s time to cancel cancel culture. For good measure, shoot it in Hollywood, Florida.

Breaking News with Dave Rubin (Weeknights, Midnight/ET)
The classically liberal (as opposed to Woke) author, comedian and podcast host essentially does what Jon Stewart used to do on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show before Stewart unfortunately became a sad parody of himself.

Won’t Back Down (Tuesday, 8:00 PM/ET)
While ABC scored a relatively rare scripted success with its school-based sitcom Abbott Elementary this season, it occurs to me that Fox could respond with a dramedy series version of  the 2012 film Won’t Back Down about a charter school standing up to government bureaucrats and an education union determined to shut it down. Needless to say, the entrenched media hated the film. Facing promotional and distribution resistance, the film sank at the box off but the premise is more timely then ever. I see a hit.

Black & Blue (Tuesday, 9:00 PM/ET)
An untitled project (I provide one, you’re welcome) from Fox’s 2019 development slate centered on a larger-than-life Baltimore P.D. District Commander who through his strong faith and commitment to his squad, his community and his family, set out to transform one of the city’s most crime-ridden neighborhoods. Inspired by the real-life Baltimore District Commander/preacher Melvin Russell, the passed-on series would have been executive produced by Joseph C. Wilson (The Chi) and Ice Cube. IMHO, Fox should dust this one off.

Comeback with Tom Brady (Wednesday, 8:00 PM/ET)
Now that Fox is in business with the legendary quarterback, how about, in addition to his sports analysis, he front an old-fashioned inspirational reality show like a revival of this basically forgotten 1979 docuseries focusing on people who have lost it all but persevered long enough to attain a comeback. In a country that could use a comeback, it might just hit the mark.

Mitch Albom’s Light Gallery (Wednesday, 9:00 PM/ET)
In 2009 Fox had a development deal with inspirational author Mitch Albom to turn his novel The Five People You Meet in Heaven into a TV series. The network wisely passed since the book already had been tackled as an ABC TV movie and it was kinda hard to see how the premise could be extended over multiple seasons. Still, Albom’s a great talent and I could see faith-based anthology twist to Rod Serling’s Night Gallery.

9 is Fine (Thursday, 8:00 PM)
Okay, maybe play with that title a little bit but Fox News personalities could provide a lot of fodder for scripted TV series and a family dramedy loosely based on the home life of married commentators Rachel Campos-Duffy and Sean Duffy (and authors of Fox News Books’ All American Christmas) could be an Eight is Enough for this generation.

The Secret Six (Thursday, 9:00 PM)
Speaking of Fox News personalities, an Revolutionary War-set adventure series based on Brian Kilmeade‘s book George Washington’s Secret Six could provide just the dose of patriotism American’s are thirsting for.

America’s Most Wanted with Curtis Sliwa (Saturday, 8:00 PM/ET)
First Responders with Frank Siller (Saturday, 9:00 PM/ET)
All the networks should get back to keeping the lights on on Saturday nights and I think a revival of AMW hosted by the founder of The Guardian Angels and a weekly tribute to America’s first responders hosted by the founder of the Tunnel to Towers Foundation would be right on brand for Fox.

The Weekly Bee (Saturday, 11:00 PM/ET)
Why is Saturday Night Live being allowed to skate without comedy competition when it tries to pass off literal crap like this as comedy? A TV version of the conservative humor site The Babylon Bee could at least provide America with an alternative.

The Sunday Night Post (Sunday, 7:00 PM/or after football)
Speaking of competition, it’s also about time (pun intended) that 60 Minutes got some. From election security concerns to border issues, The New York Post, owned by Fox sister company News Corporation, has boldly taken on issues that 60 Minutes either ignores or, too often, distorts. It’s time to make Miranda Divine the Mike Wallace of her generation.

The Home Free Goodtime Hour (Sunday, 9:00 PM)
Lastly, America could go for a good musical variety hour. It’s been quite a while since they tried one and I think these guys could pull it off.

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

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