Links for Learning
Connections for High School Teachers and Students
Links for Learners will support high school curriculum
Finding Links for
Discussion Group Leaders and Participants
preaching the Gospels
- Social Studiescommunication;
the media; media literacy
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.
Terms in This Months 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.
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.
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.
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
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?
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.
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.
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.