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Links for Learners

by Lynn and Bob Gillen

April 2000

The following Links for Learners resource is offered to those who would like to use St. Anthony Messenger in an educational setting or for further study at home. This resource is prepared with high school students in mind, but can be adapted for other age groups. We will feature one article for further study each month. Back issues, beginning in May 1997, contain this resource. Up until December 1998 it was called a teacher's guide or classroom resource. Teachers with access to computer labs should encourage students to access the article directly online. Students have our permission to print out a copy of the article for classroom use. We encourage you to subscribe to the print edition of St. Anthony Messenger, where you will see all of the graphics, and more articles that you might find useful on a variety of topics. Please let us know how we can improve this service by sending feedback to

Click here for a complete listing of Links for Learners

Please see our links disclaimer located at the end of this document.

Links for Learning

Finding Curriculum Connections for High School Teachers and Students

This month’s Links for Learners will support high school curriculum in:

    • Religion—evangelization; preaching the Gospels
    • Social Studies—communication; the media; media literacy
    • English/Broadcast Journalism—storytelling
Finding Links for Discussion Group Leaders and Participants

Look for connections for use in programs outside the classroom, such as:

  • Parish sacramental preparation programs and CCD classes; young adult discussion programs; seasonal discussion groups; RCIA programs.
  • Parents will also find this material useful in initiating discussion around the dinner table, in home study, at family activities or as preparation for parent/teacher meetings.

Understanding Basic Terms in This Month’s Article

Look for these key words and terms as you read the article. Definitions or explanations can be researched from the article itself, or from the resource materials cited throughout the Links for Learners.

Cable network

Syndicated show

Family values


Faith community

Commercial success




Religious programming

Developing television programming

Following its recent merger with The Jim Henson Company and Hallmark Entertainment, the Odyssey Channel, an interfaith cable television channel, is emerging as a leader in religious and family programming. Odyssey is owned jointly by Henson and Hallmark Entertainment, by Liberty Media, and by the National Interfaith Cable Coalition, a consortium of over 70 faith groups, including Protestant, Jewish, Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Evangelical and Pentecostal traditions. The Odyssey Channel is committed to the communication of family and religious values in its programming.

Media communication costs money. In broadcasting religious programming, the Odyssey Channel operates as a business, much the same as other television networks. Individual production companies create and develop programs to sell to television or cable network companies, who in turn invest in the programs they hope will be successful on air. For primetime network television programming, staying on the air translates to large loyal audiences which advertisers covet.

Think, for example, of Frasier or Friends, two popular, long-running television programs. A large viewing audience brings high Nielsen ratings. (The Los Angeles Times is one newspaper that publishes complete Nielsen ratings in its Calendar section of its print edition every Wednesday. Top 20 ratings can be found in its online edition.) High ratings allow a network to charge more for advertising time. A long-running program, then, contributes to the network's bottom line by attracting advertising. Even a cursory reading of media trade journals such as Variety and the Hollywood Reporter reveals the urgency for network success as the networks acquire and develop new programming.

For some networks, their creative and technical talents, coupled with their ability to find and air popular programming, make success almost inevitable. Others struggle to build audiences for their shows. The Odyssey Channel faces similar challenges. As an interfaith network airing programs developed by faith-based production companies, it too looks to attract and retain a loyal audience. Its recent partnership will strengthen its resources and contribute to its ultimate goal of making faith visible on television.

The effort to make faith visible, of course, traces itself back to Jesus, and indeed to Old Testament times. The Gospels are full of the drama of his life. Jesus walked from town to town. He addressed gathered crowds from a hillside or a boat, even from the cross. He used parables, the literary device common to his time. He spoke to people's real situations, healing the blind and lame, feeding the poor, visiting the alienated, forgiving sinners.

Communicating faith-based values

All television programming, religious or secular, reflects values and beliefs. Those values may stem from the show's creators and writers or could be driven more by network executives dictating program content.

Discuss the values you find in the syndicated show M*A*S*H, for example, or the White House-based The West Wing. (See The Washington Post for an informative article on The West Wing's creator and writer, Aaron Sorkin. Sorkin's premise is that politicians are decent people who are in their jobs for the right reasons.) What are the beliefs of the college-age characters in Felicity? What in life is important to the doctor on Providence? How do her values compare to those that drive the lives of the emergency room physicians on ER?

If you are working in teen or adult discussion groups, create your own development idea for a television program with a religious or value-based theme. Determine first if you want to communicate through stories (fiction) or through documentary-style programming (non-fiction). For the story approach, develop a cast of characters or a story concept. Write a summary of what the show would be all about. Are there particular values or concepts you wish your characters to explore? Look for real-life situations where conflict and disagreement between people exist. This is material for a dramatic (and entertaining) examination of issues.

In your efforts talk about existing shows such as Touched by an Angel, Seventh Heaven or the syndicated Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. What story elements, what characters inspire you to create your own? What jobs, what groups of people, are motivated by ideals, for example? Draft a few sample pages of script, if you wish. Be sure in the process to identify a target market: families, teens, adults 18 to 49, senior citizens. Discuss what networks might serve as a market for your show idea.

You may then want to pitch your program idea to another discussion group representing a network or a target audience. See if you are successful in creating interest. Have you found an effective vehicle for communicating your faith values? Can your "viewers" identify your values from the story ideas you created?

Younger classroom groups or families at home can create a collage illustrating an idea for a television program. Children might also enjoy creating a storyboard to demonstrate their program idea. With ruler and pencil, divide a piece of paper into nine small squares. Then draw scenes and stick figures depicting their basic story on Post-It notes. Stick the notes on the grid page to visualize the story sequence. Switch the notes around until they have a satisfactory story illustration. Encourage the children then to share the story verbally.

For documentary programming, pattern your communication idea after a contemporary program such as Odyssey's Landmarks of Faith, which highlights the origins of faith communities, or PBS's Religion and Ethics Newsweekly. You might want to profile local people who live their faith and values in their daily lives. Also, what famous people (sports figures, entertainers, etc.) can you think of who might qualify for such a profile? Suggestions would include teachers, program leaders, coaches, clergy and rehabilitation counselors. Odyssey's Today's Life Choices: Challenges for our Times, examines contemporary social issues and offers profiles of the people central to these issues. Another program, Defiant Faithful, features one-hour biographies of spiritual leaders.

As with the story approach, draft your ideas and pitch them to another discussion group. Or with younger children, create the collage or the storyboard. Talk about each group's effectiveness in communicating the values you hold important.

Cable television background

The role of cable television continues to grow. The National Cable Television Association offers a history of the cable television industry, as well as information on several videos promoting media literacy for young people. Cable in the Classroom offers free cable programming to over 80,000 public and private schools in the country, through 8,500 local cable companies. The organization also offers home viewers information on family-friendly cable programs.

Further information on Margaret Loesch and her role at the Odyssey Channel can be found in Cable World magazine. See Liberty Media for information on the company that holds a one-third interest in Odyssey.

Research Resources

Try accessing some of these Internet sources for further reference. Be aware, however, that some of these sites may charge for downloading articles contained within the site’s archives.

Pathfinder - Access site to a number of online news publications
People magazine
The Close Up FoundationWashington, D.C.-based organization

Links Disclaimer:

The links contained within this resource guide are functional at the time the page is posted. Over time, however, some of the links may become ineffective.

These links are provided solely as a convenience to you and not as an endorsement by St. Anthony Messenger Press/Franciscan Communications of the contents on such third-party Web sites. St. Anthony Messenger Press/Franciscan Communications is not responsible for the content of linked third-party sites and does not make any representations regarding the content or accuracy of materials on such third-party Web sites. If you decide to access linked third-party Web sites, you do so at your own risk.

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