Doug Keck has overseen the Eternal Word Television Network’s productions for the past 10 years.

A former cable company executive from New York, Keck, 51, serves as EWTN’s vice president for production and programming. On the occasion of the network’s 25th anniversary, he spoke with Register senior writer Tim Drake from his office in Irondale, Ala.

EWTN played some role in reinvigorating your own faith, didn’t it?

Marriage Encounter first got me back on the beam when I was drifting along on the Swanee River. I grew up Irish Catholic and attended Catholic schools, but for people in New York, to wear their faith on their sleeve just wasn’t done. It was viewed as phony. My faith didn’t really impact my life. We were like the National Guard. We were only called up on the weekend.

The network first got me excited about the faith. I would videotape EWTN overnight and then listen to the tapes while I worked around the house. That was a big part of my own underpinning.

I had a varied past and had done work with the Playboy Channel. When I first met with Mother Angelica, I felt she could look right through you, so I told her about my past work. Someone must have prepared her. She said, “That’s okay, honey. That’s why you’re here.”

What do you see as the impact of the network upon the Church?

What Mother Angelica did was put out what the Church teaches at a time when it wasn’t clear. The teachings — what the Church taught — were the same. Mother Angelica said things that other people were thinking.

The network tries to be that rock connected to the Magisterium. If you leave that rock, you drift. That’s what happened to me. We didn’t know we were drifting. That’s what EWTN provided for me and others of my generation.

The network also helps reinforce the universality of the Catholic Church — that people believe the same things. That helps people feel like they are not alone.

We also serve an audience that no one else cares about — the elderly and those who are suffering. If EWTN is doing nothing but comforting those people, that sounds pretty good to me.

How does EWTN come up with new program ideas?

It’s Holy Spirit-driven. We become aware of individuals who might have an interesting topic. For example, Father Mitch Pacwa might meet someone or read an article in a newspaper. Out of that, we might invite the person onto one of our live shows, vet them, and see what reaction we get and our comfort with them. That’s one way. We have a number of ways.

We’ll look at the network and say, “Gee, why don’t we have something like that?” One handicap is that we have to rely on the good will of good Catholic people to produce something. We don’t pay our people to do a show.

We usually premiere our new programs in September or March. Those are our two seasons. We’re usually planning a year to 18 months out.

How has the network changed over time?

We’ve done a lot to increase the amount of programming we produce. We’ve increased both our quantity and quality. Now we’re looking at how we can manage so we can have fewer numbers of programs, but at a new level. It’s a function of time and money.

We’re doing more programming than we’ve ever done before. Between our acquisitions, library and what we produce, we have much lower repeat levels. Our programs look better than they did before. We have more live programming and more international programming.

Another form of evangelization we’ve rolled out is home video. Mother Angelica was on the cutting edge. Viewers could order her program the night it ran. Everything we do is evangelization.

There are those who criticize EWTN, describing it as a talking head network. How do you respond to that?

There are more documentaries today and less talking heads. People wonder why EWTN can’t look like regular TV. The reality is that because of our mission, we are a teaching network, not an entertainment one. The message is the medium.

We’re focused now on getting distribution around the world. Maybe we will eventually offer additional channels, such as a children’s channel or a lifestyle channel, but a) that’s not our primary mission, and b) it’s very expensive.

There are many things we cannot do. The Catholic infrastructure is different from the Protestant one. There’s no Catholic Focus on the Family.

This is how Mother Angelica designed her network. Why criticize something that works? Let’s not forget all the network has done. Our job is to put it out there. We can’t convert your brother. We can only provide the tools.

I understand the network receives no funding from the Church. How is it funded?

Our programming is highly dependent upon our donors. It’s all being done through $25 sent by pious little old ladies saying their Rosary.

We can film a 13-part series in about three days. For the price of an airline ticket and lodging we can produce a lot of material.

Now that we’re out there, the Spirit is moving more people to do something in the media. The costs of production have gone down because of digital media.

                   

What might we see EWTN doing in the future?

We’re focused on more international programs, so that people in other countries can see themselves on the screen. We’re also looking at more co-productions, especially in Spain and Latin America. We’re also looking at animation programs that can easily be produced in multiple languages.

We’re adding more live radio programs, such as a program with Raymond Arroyo and one with Joan Lewis, a correspondent in Rome. We see more opportunities to do more things like that. We’re going to begin offering “Faith Matters” via cellular phones. We want EWTN’s programming to be ubiquitous so that if there’s an interest, it’s there.

I believe in incrementalism — building on the success of 25 years of going along. That’s what we’ve done. You can see that we’re bigger, we have better programming, we’re in more households, affecting more lives. We’re viable and we’re still here.

Tim Drake is based in St. Joseph, Minnesota.