Thinking Out Loud

April 21, 2020

CBS-TV Continues its Ambivalent Relationship with God

After only two seasons, CBS-TV has cancelled the Sunday night Drama God Friended Me. The show will have a two-hour finale this Sunday night, though not the season finale producers envisioned when drafting the master story arc. That episode was lost when production had to wrap up early due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

It’s really just one in a long series of events where the network develops something and then mysteriously chooses to walk away; a series that goes back to the original Charlie Brown (Peanuts) Christmas special more than 54 years ago. The show had no laugh track, there were actual children doing the children’s voices, the soundtrack was all jazz, and finally, there was that pesky extended reading from the Gospel of Luke.

So as we noted in this article, the network decided to just take a tax writeoff on the entire production. Fortunately, the story ends differently.

Perhaps in more recent memory, there was Living Biblically, a weekly sitcom, which was produced by Johnny Galecki of The Big Bang Theory. As we noted in this article, in order to be sensitive to two different religions’ approach to what Christians call The Old Testament, there was both a Christian pastor and a rabbi on the set while they were filming.

CBS cancelled the show after only one season.

Then in Fall 2017 it was deju vu all over again, as the network introduced God Friended Me, in which the God wouldn’t necessarily be the God of Evangelical American Christianity, and the ‘friended’ wouldn’t necessarily be Facebook. We wrote about the series in this article, and also reviewed the first episode, which I compared, quite accurately looking back, the detailed script writing to the series Lost.

Fans using the hashtag #GodFriendedMe are simply shocked as to why the wholesome series would be deleted, especially “now, when we really need it.” Others are suggesting another network swoop in and save the show, with The Hallmark Channel leading a list of suggestions that also includes FOX-TV and The CW.

One writer notes that the lead character, Miles, will receive “one last friend suggestion;” though it’s unclear if this is in the content which will air on Sunday or in the master arc final episode left unfilmed.

Although Miles is an atheist in the story, Christians resonated with his search for God. His father is portrayed as an Episcopal Bishop in New York City. But some felt the series lost its Evangelical following when a lesbian couple was introduced later this season.

Another writer noted that the cast were equally surprised by the cancellation. The actor who portrays Cara, Miles’ partner-in-crime trying to track down “who is behind the God account” while at the same time helping the people it sends as friend suggestions, resigned herself to the news, “Unfortunately this is the end of the road for the God Squad. We found out yesterday that our show will not be continuing for a third season. I’ve been so humbled by all of the messages I’ve received from all of you throughout these last two years, about how much these stories have impacted your lives and helped you through some tough times.”

Again, it amazes me how these networks invest in the development of these series only to pull the plug if ratings aren’t superlative. Many feel the show suffered by frequent broadcast delays due to sports programming running overtime, but the network contended it was comparing to other programs which have had to deal with the same issue.

Is God still alive and well at CBS? Yes he is, in the form of the occasional editorials by outspoken Roman Catholic and Late Night host Stephen Colbert. Hopefully he isn’t being told to tone down faith-focused references.

I’d like to see this show survive on another broadcast network, just as conservative comedian Tim Allen’s sitcom Last Man Standing did when it moved from ABC to FOX. There are precedents for this sort of thing, and I believe God Friended Me still has much longevity.

 

October 22, 2018

Superstore on NBC: Not a Family Shopping Experience

Filed under: children, Christianity, parenting — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:50 am

Both of my part time and summer jobs all through high school and university were working in a department store. This covered a period of more than seven years. Later, my wife and I opened a retail store of our own, which later became a chain of three stores.

Retail is something I get.

So since it premiered, I’ve been watching the TV show Superstore on NBC.

I think the show is, overall, well-written. A few times, it has raised issues worth discussing.

I also accept — no doubt with reluctance — that television scriptwriters are always pushing the envelope; always seeing how much they can get away with. I harbor no illusions of returning to the days of Make Room for Daddy and Leave it to Beaver and Andy of Mayberry. I’m not the type of person to get into Moral Majority-styled rants about the filth on TV and calling for networks to cancel shows and everyone else to boycott sponsors.

Thursday night’s show included two scenes which had parts censored. The first was an audio ‘bleeping’ of a word completely ascertainable in context. The second was a visual ‘pixelation’ of a woman raising her t-shirt to show her bare breasts to a man. This second one actually occurred twice.

To repeat, this is the state of broadcast television in 2018.

However…

This program airs at 8:00 PM.

I don’t get why NBC schedules this at 8:00 PM.

I don’t understand how NBC continues to get away with showing this at 8:00 PM.

U.S. network prime time begins when locally produced or locally acquired programming ends at 7:59 and runs to 10:59 before local news. The first hour, from 8:00 to 9:00 was once called “the family hour.” And yes, I know that kids today see far worse on the internet.

However…

I don’t get why NBC schedules this at 8:00 PM.

I don’t understand how NBC continues to get away with showing this at 8:00 PM.

And if a family with young kids is sitting around watching television together, and scenes such as the one I described — and these are not the first instances of this I’ve noticed — come on the screen, I would think the situation in the family room or living room is just plain awkward.

October 1, 2018

Review: God Friended Me

Back on August 27th, I told you about a new series beginning this fall on CBS-TV, and last night, after a 13-minute delay due to NFL Football — you’d think God would have that game under control — the series God Friended Me launched.  Miles Finer, the main character is the son of a minister turned atheist following the death of his mother, and is now an aspiring podcaster hoping to have his faith-focused program picked up by Sirius Radio.

The producers had said that “When we say ‘god,’ it’s the general — we’re not focusing on one religious figure or portrayal;” yet what was shown last night leaned more toward a Judeo-Christian God, probably due to the need to solidly introduce the main character, well-played by Brandon Michael Hall.  

So while the premise is multi-faith — “In the cast, Violett [Beane]’s character is Jewish, Miles (Hall) is an atheist, Suraj [Sharma] is Hindu.” — the execution of the pilot episode was more one-sided by necessity. That will may shift in future scripts.

If I have any takeaway from the show, it’s the extent to which individuals at large have their God-picture shaped by circumstances. One of the many comments on Twitter compared the show to Early Edition, and there are certainly a number of story vignettes involving characters in the right place at the right time, except that here the characters are connected, their stories are intertwined well beyond the realm of coincidence.

For some reason, I was reminded of Lost in the sense there is probably more backstory to the characters than we’ve seen — plus new ones which can be introduced at any time in future episodes through friend requests — and due to the story’s quest; in the case, the Holy Grail being finding out who is behind the “God” social media account.

All that to say that our view of God — even among those of us Evangelicals who contend that the object truth about God is clearly stated in the scriptures — is often subjective.

The pilot’s treatment of both belief and skepticism is respectful. Though the tension is certain there in the father-son dynamic, both viewpoints are given equal credibility.

And for all the Calvinist/Reformed people in the audience, Miles doesn’t confirm the friend request the first time around; God has to keep pursuing him. (But for all the Wesleyan/Arminian viewers, Miles can also unfriend God.)

The show’s downside on broadcast television is that CBS consistently stacks the commercial breaks on all its programs with more clutter promoting other shows than any other network. –“Blip-verts, anyone? — so there is also wisdom in waiting for the Season 1 DVD, though the show needs viewers now for that DVD to happen. 

One review concluded: “Should You Accept a Friend Request From God? I guess that depends on whether you’re still even active on Facebook. If God were smart, he’d pivot to Instagram and connect with the teens via dank memes and absurdist humor. He’s already on Twitter, but that site’s a good approximation of hell.”  You decide. 

The show airs Sunday nights on CBS at 8:00 PM, or, with the football season in full swing, more accurately “After 60 Minutes.”

August 27, 2018

God is Back on CBS-TV

Filed under: Christianity, media — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:03 am

After dumping the series Living Biblically after only one season, God returns to the CBS network in the series God Friended Me, this one a one-hour long comedy/drama, or if you prefer, fantasy/drama which first airs at the end of September. (Airing in Canada on CTV.)

Wikipedia has this short summary:

God Friended Me is described as a humorous, uplifting series that explores questions of faith, existence and science. It centers on Miles (Hall), an outspoken atheist whose life is turned upside down when he is friended by God on Facebook. Unwittingly, he becomes an agent of change in the lives and destinies of others around him. Violett Beane will play Cara Bloom. Confident, compelling and quick-witted, Cara is a leading writer at an online magazine. Under pressure for her next big story, her life takes an interesting turn when she meets Miles—thanks to God’s friend suggestion.

The network has been in talks with Facebook to settle the question of how the social media giant is portrayed and we’re told there will be some real-world Facebook accounts which will tie in to the program.

The website Deadline.com notes:

CBS’s new series God Friended Me is not Highway to Heaven or Touched By Angel, executive producers wanted to make very clear to TV critics at [Television Critics Association]. That, though both NBC’s Highway and CBS’s Touched were quite successful long-running series. Both those shows featured angels; this series does not. “There is nothing supernatural about our show,” [Executive Producer] Bryan Wynbrandt said.

At TV Guide (owned by CBS) we learn more about the “God” of the series:

CBS’ new heartfelt comedy-drama hybrid God Friended Me … probably conjures up the image of an old man with a long flowing white beard sitting on a cloud on his iPhone 5 (he’s old, remember) looking at recipe GIFs or cat memes, you know, the classic image of the Christian/Catholic God doing his thing when he’s not giving someone the flu when they say his name in vein.

But good news, all you other religious denominations — this “god” in God Friended Me is all gods, according to the producers of the show.

“When we say ‘god,’ it’s the general — we’re not focusing on one religious figure or portrayal,” executive producer Bryan Wynbrandt told reporters Sunday at the Television Critics Association summer press tour. “In the cast, Violett [Beane]’s character is Jewish, Miles (Hall) is an atheist, Suraj [Sharma] is Hindu.”

So if God is present, what about Satan? The article continues,

… [T]he question of whether an opposing powerful force came up, but producers wouldn’t say if one would be in the show. But they did offer up this one bit of information.

“The devil would probably be on Twitter,” Wynbrandt said.

November 23, 2017

Broadcast Television’s Diminishing Influence

Watching the evening network news, each night this week the run-up to Black Friday has contained samples of deals being offered by retailers, and without fail, in each selection there has been at least one large-screen television which will be on sale. The demand for screens is obviously large, though the application might vary from home to home. Gaming and home theater are probably the primary uses.

Last week at this time we were out of town so we could see our youngest son appear in a live theater production. Traffic driving through Toronto was the worst we’ve ever encountered even though the weather was perfect. I would describe it as my worst-ever experience with traffic congestion in Canada. It left us arriving late at the hotel, and we didn’t back into the room until late. The next day we had a bit less time pressure.

Even so, it was the first time I can remember being in a hotel room where the television wasn’t used at all. (The key word is remember, hopefully it wasn’t on in our honeymoon suite all those years ago!) As more and more people are now watching original programs on cable channels or streaming movies on services like Netflix, it’s difficult to find people willing to discuss something that happened on a old-school, network prime time show the night before.

I can also imagine that Millennials might also shun the hotel television, the same way they shun newspapers. My youngest, when he lived at home, would ask me about something I liked to watch, and I would say, “It’s on ABC;” and that information would be useless to him. Much different for those of us who grew up with TV sets which occasionally required us to adjust the ‘vertical hold’ and ‘horizontal hold.’

Given my aversion to violence on TV, if we’re home I usually try to relax and watch one or two sitcoms, Monday to Thursday. This year The Mayor has been notable as it gives the average person an inside look at municipal politics. But for best new series this fall, I would need to award Me, Myself and I for the brilliance of the writing which revolves around one character at three different times in his life; past, present and future. (For my Canadian readers, I’m trying to catch the second season of Kim’s Convenience, but the national broadcaster no longer as a reliable off-air signal in our area. I can get U.S. networks consistently each evening, but not the network which receives a subsidy from my taxes.)

Basically, it’s the 6:30 PM network news — ABC with David Muir being my program of choice — that justifies the tall aerial standing next to our house. Watch any awards show however, and you’re going to see little statues given to programs whose electrons never traveled through the air.

With cable shows, YouTube and the rest of the Internet’s diversion, nobody really has the time for what CBS, NBC, ABC et al have to offer. You can only slice the leisure-time pie so thin because there’s only so many hours in the day.

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