Having neither cable television nor a satellite dish, we are very much at the mercy of off-air signals. When the sun sets on analog broadcasting in February, 2009 we are either going to have to succumb to one of the above delivery systems or give up television altogether. Either way, life will be very different.
One of the things I will miss the most are those days in July and August when summer weather causes freak reception of more distant stations. One of those occurrence has involved picking up a Christian television station operated by Cornerstone Television of Wall, Pennsylvania. The signal is present only for a few hours each summer, but what fascinating hours those have been.
One of their flagship shows — I don’t think it’s still in their schedule — was something called His Place. The program takes place at a restaurant which is reminiscent of an American diner, or maybe a larger version of Waffle House. The kind of hometown place that is dying as restaurant chains take over the market. Instead of the normal talk show format, interviews with guests are conducted within the framework of enjoying a meal — guests and hosts often eat real food during the show — and it’s not unusual for us, the audience to join the interview in medias res (i.e.: the camera and sound fade up with the interview already in progress.)
Guest interviews — and this is more astounding when you remember that these are guests, not program staff — often end just as suddenly. The camera may shift focus and suddenly another interview — already begun — is taking place at another booth in the restaurant as the sound crossfades between the two action areas. As someone who has worked in television production, I can assure you this is not as easy as it looks. Of course special music is also handled within the context of the restaurant theme, and there is the added bonus of subplots involving the restaurant staff discussing ongoing soap-opera-style developments in the private lives of their characters as they chat over the lunch counter.
I had forgotten some of His Place until last night when we happened to watch a DVD collection of four situation comedies produced by Cornerstone (CTVN) called Pastor Greg. At this point, I need to say that neither my wife nor I have any high expectations when “Christian” and “situation comedy” appear in the same breath. But at the end of two episodes, both of us used roughly the same words: It’s not that bad at all. From us that’s high praise. It wasn’t laugh-out-loud funny, but it had its moments. And while the scene of a church picnic breaking out in a food fight seemed to be milked for twice the length it should have, there was a lot of joy in that scene that stayed with me the next morning.
Here’s the point: Somewhere in Wall, PA, there’s something in the water; something good in the water that causes these people to aim high when it comes to writing, acting, camera-blocking, set design, lighting, sound, graphics, etc. Let me say that I believe that most of the most significant inroads Christians are making in the media are taking place on secular channels, be they broadcast, cable or digital. And I believe that the CTVN people probably have days where they don’t always get it right. But CTVN staff are turning out a higher quality product in a sector of the television industry where mediocrity is the name of the game.
I believe that no matter what you’re doing you should “do everything as unto the Lord.” That means even your secular vocation — while it may not be the same as an act of worship in the sense we normally think of it — should be done as unto God. But for those of you — myself included — who serve within the temple gates; your offering should be of the absolute highest quality. When it comes to Christian television, that means what we produce should be as good or better than what the world has to offer, not because we can ever match their budgets or their star power, but because we are producing something that reflects our Lord Himself.
Why the rest of the Christian television industry hasn’t been bitten by the same bug as has affected the people at Cornerstone remains a mystery. And if neither of the above mentioned shows are still on their schedule (www.ctvn.org) I can’t wait for a chance to see what they are producing today. I wish them God’s blessing and for just enough of that blessing to be financial to the point where they can buy time to show their work on other Christian networks.