By Mark Pattison
Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Mark Burnett and Roma Downey may have misfired with their remake of "Ben-Hur" -- due out on video Dec. 13 in what one news release called a "special Christian version" at "select Christian outlets" -- but that's not stopping them from again taking on the world of television, which has long been their bread and butter.
The new venture is called "Light TV," and it will debut Dec. 15. Light TV makes its first appearance as a digital subchannel -- "multicast" in industry parlance -- on 16 Fox-owned and -operated stations that cover 37 percent of the U.S. viewing public.
A news release for Light TV billed it as a "faith and family broadcast entertainment network" and the programming announced appears to reflect that.
Although a 24-hour program schedule was not made available with the Nov. 16 announcement about the creation of Light TV, the channel will be dependent in large part on the film and TV library of MGM -- which is a partner in the venture, as the Fox stations are, with Burnett and Downey.
The two TV dramas that were included in the announcement were Michael Landon's "Highway to Heaven" and "Heartland," a Canadian series about a multigenerational family trying to make it through in both good times and bad in the Canadian province of Alberta. Also getting a spot on the schedule are reruns of the game show "Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?" hosted by comedian Jeff Foxworthy, for which Burnett is executive producer.
John Bryan, MGM president of domestic television distribution, said other TV shows like "Sea Hunt" with Lloyd Bridges and "Green Acres" with Eddie Albert and Eva Gabor would grace the schedule.
Bryan, in a Dec. 1 telephone interview from Los Angeles with Catholic News Service, said Downey would host and introduce movies from the MGM library on weekends.
MGM films that were touted in the Light TV announcement included "Rocky," "Hoosiers," "Red River," "Little Man Tate," "The Nutcracker," "Lilies of the Field," "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang," "The Black Stallion," "All Dogs Go to Heaven," "Pink Panther," "Fame" and "Mr. Mom."
Bryan said there's "no question, no question" that the series that made Downey a star, "Touched by an Angel," would eventually appear on Light TV. The same is true of Burnett's many reality series, although Bryan did not say whether "The Apprentice" (which starred President-elect Donald Trump) or "Shark Tank," will be seen.
"That's just premature," he told CNS, before adding that ultimately the couple's more recent projects, such as their miniseries "The Bible" and "A.D.: The Bible Continues" or their big-screen success "Son of God," will be shown on Light TV.
Markets where Fox affiliates will carry Light TV are New York, Los Angeles; Chicago; Philadelphia; Dallas; Houston; San Francisco; Washington; Atlanta; Phoenix; Detroit; Minneapolis; Orlando, Florida; and Charlotte, North Carolina.
Bryan said once Light TV is up and running, efforts will be made to get the channel placed elsewhere. He added MGM's experience with This TV, which generally features movies from the MGM vault made since the 1980s, is instructive.
"When we started with This TV, we had only eight stations," he said. "It took a year to get up to 135 stations. So that's what this (process) is like. Now it's the number one movie channel in the multicast system out there, and I think the same is going to happen with Light TV."
And for those souls without the benefit of digital TV, Light TV will be shopped to satellite TV services as well. Bryan put the marketing of the channel as a cart-before-the-horse situation. "We haven't even made a (promotional) spot yet," he said. Once in the can, though, they will air on the Fox affiliates as teasers. "It's like we're building a house, and we just got up the Sheetrock."
Don't look for a pithy slogan. "I think Light TV is really good" by itself, Bryan said. "I'm excited we got the name. It's self-explanatory."
As for advertisers, "we've just started the process" of sales, Bryan said, adding MGM is telling advertisers that Light TV is "a safe environment to be in. I think that's a key word, safe. We've gotten a really good response."
Just in time for the holidays, Light TV will air a Christmas special with Downey and Jordan Smith, who won the ninth cycle of "The Voice" last year -- another reality series executive-produced by Burnett. The special, according to Bryan, will make it to air on Christmas Eve, Dec. 24.
Will there be have faith-specific programming on Light TV? Bryan answered, "We will (have it). And Roma and Mark are very involved in that process."
- - -
Pattison is media editor for Catholic News Service. Follow him on Twitter: @MeMarkPattison.
- - -
When you keep your eye on TV, what do you see? What are your likes or dislikes? What are your concerns and criticisms? Be as general or as specific as you wish. Send your comments to: Mark Pattison, Media Editor, Catholic News Service, 3211 Fourth St. NE, Washington, DC 20017.