Arts & Entertainment
Internet ‘TV Shows’ Spread Faith
BY JOE PRONECHEN
February 8-14, 2009 Issue | Posted 1/30/09 at 9:02 AM
Yes, Virginia, there is an answer to regular television and its steady secular humanism and hedonism. The Christian message can get out there on cable, broadband and Internet.
One example aimed at both kids and adults is “WOW, The CatholicTV Challenge.”
With hints of the popular quiz show “Jeopardy” and the long-running adult favorite “Kids Say the Darndest Things,” this fast-moving game, designed by Father Robert Reed for CatholicTV of the Archdiocese of Boston, can be subtitled, “Kids Say the Holiest Things.”
Think you’re challenged about being as smart as a fifth-grader when you watch the popular Fox game show? “WOW” takes the concept to another level for adult viewers because all the contestants are third-graders.
It’s meant for the entire family to enjoy together and for teaching Catholicism’s basic tenets in a thrilling way for kids, according to CatholicTV’s general manager, Jay Fadden.
Just talk to contestants like Kelechi “KC” Ikeasoguh and Lauren Horan, both 9 year olds from St. Theresa School in West Roxbury, Mass.
“It got me more excited about my faith,” says Lauren, a runner-up on one “WOW” challenge, “because it showed me all the stuff I didn’t know. Now I want to learn more.”
An overall champion, KC says studying for “WOW Challenge” expanded his love for his faith and knowledge of it. “I learned how the archbishop takes care of the diocese, the way Jesus Christ shared the Gospel, and how people can learn the good news by reading the Bible,” he says.
Even getting ready for the “WOW” challenge is a challenge. Competing schools receive two topics, each with about 72 questions and answers. Since students who will compete aren’t chosen until the classes walk into the studio the day of taping, every third-grader prepares.
“It’s an occasion for the kids and their families and school religion class to learn the information together,” notes Father Reed, director of CatholicTV. The show’s concept purposely assures a community effort.
Explains Lauren, “I would practice in the schoolyard with friends and at home with my family. There were a lot of difficult questions they asked, so my family learned, too, helping me practice.” Same for KC.
The questions on everything from the Ten Commandments and sacraments to miracles on the fast-paced show sometimes call for short explanations. On the miracle of Jesus calming the storm at sea, the children had to explain “miracles do not obey the laws of nature.”
Often, host Father Reed will add further insight, like “Jesus didn’t do that to just ‘wow’ us with the miracles, but to inspire faith in God.”
“WOW” has another effect. Karen Smith, one of St. Theresa’s third-grade teachers, says interest in her religion class increased with the “WOW Challenge.” More than 70 third-graders left the studio eager to study more of their faith.
Nor does it stop in school. “We read the Bible every Saturday,” happily adds KC about his family. “That’s when I learn more about the Catholic faith.”
“WOW Challenge” excitement isn’t confined to the Boston Archdiocese. Viewers watch the show across the United States via cable and broadband through services like Sky Angel, on Canada’s national Catholic channel Salt & Light, plus at CatholicTV.com, which streams programming 24 hours a day.
And “WOW” has plans afoot for a game version of the show for a classroom, parish and family resource.
Imagine a 15-minute film shot in a mere three days that is getting the attention of pro-life circles. No need to image it if you’ve seen Volition on the Internet.
John Jansen, codirector of Generations for Life, finds it compelling and impressive in the way it presents a pro-life message. “It’s a real breakthrough,” he says, “an original movie to have people look at abortion in a way they haven’t previously.”
Young people started watching it the day after Jansen recommended it on Generations for Life’s blog.
Volition was written and directed by 23-year-old filmmaker Tim Morgan with music by his brother Matthew; the film was made after they received $17,500 in a 2008 Doorpost Film Project’s competition for a film on hope. Today, Doorpost’s director Nathan Elliot gets 50 to 100 requests a day for the film.
“I think part of it is the quality and part is the fact that Tim has touched on something from an artistic perspective that hasn’t been done before,” Elliot explains.
Morgan wove three separate stories and time periods together — slavery in the South, Nazi Germany’s concentration camps, and the present-day abortion struggle — using the same actor as each main character. He came up with the concept at a prayer gathering where speakers drew similarities among abortion, slavery and the Holocaust.
“My goal in writing Volition was to show in history groups of people have ‘scientifically’ classed others as less than human so they can mistreat them,” says Morgan, an evangelical Protestant who was always pro-life and runs his commercial RockyFarmStudio.com in Georgia to fund his short films.
No doubt there’s junk galore on YouTube. Paulist Productions in Pacific Palisades, Calif., wants to counteract that with its first ever faith-based Internet series called “Tyler’s Ride.”
Aimed at the 18- to 35-year-old audience, it’s getting substantial numbers of 13- to 15-year-old girl viewers.
The series follows college student Tyler who lives on Dad’s credit cards, but on his 23rd birthday, he gets evicted by his father. Tyler faces a spiritual crisis about what he’s going to do with his life. Christian singer Jeremy Camp also is featured on the show.
“In ways, it’s very much a conversion and vocation story,” says Paulist Father Frank Desiderio, executive producer of the series and president of Paulist Productions, which has produced TV series like “Insight” and the feature film Romero.
Father Desiderio points out one theme: If you turn your life over to God, life is better. That happens not only for Tyler, but also for his sister and his mother, a New Ager who decides to try a traditional route to God. Tyler’s best friend, Lauren, is a Catholic who wears a crucifix and talks animatedly about the Hail Mary.
Currently, 12 episodes have been filmed. (Lack of funding hasn’t allowed the series to continue.) Father Desiderio says a Christian who likes the show can send it to a friend. “It can become an apostolic tool for evangelization.”
Staff writer Joseph Pronechen
is based in Trumbull, Connecticut.
INFORMATION CatholicTV.com, TylersRide.com, TheDoorpost.com/Hope/Volition
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