On April 16, 2010, the family-friendly film Secrets of the Mountain debuted on NBC, a milestone event. It was groundbreaking not because network TV had never aired a family film before (though they do seem rare!), but because of how it came about.
Rather than NBC working Secrets into their production schedule, two companies better known for “price rollbacks” and toothpaste/shampoo stepped up to the plate to make it happen. Walmart and Procter & Gamble not only put up advertising dollars (which they had done for family friendly programming for years), but they put up the money to make the film. Quite unusual. Secrets was rewarded with an audience of almost 8 million viewers, and for that Friday night all was well in Cincinnati and Bentonville (where P&G and Walmart, respectively, are located).
But subsequent films (collectively dubbed Family Movie Nights) failed to match Secrets’ ratings. Films like The Jensen Project, A Walk in My Shoes and Change of Plans garnered smaller audiences despite an increase (in this reviewer’s opinion) in story quality. And eventually those Family Movie Nights came to an end.
Now, out of the ashes, the same two companies are back in the filmmaking business again in an effort they call “Walden Family Theater.” As the name suggests, another heavy hitter has joined this dream team—Walden Media, the folks behind the Narnia films, Because of Winn-Dixie, Chasing Mavericks and many more. To me, it seems like a winning combination all the way around!
If asked why I believed the first run at this Family Movie Nights concept didn’t catch on with the American public, I would answer with the following:
1. Movie releases were too sporadic, making it hard for families to schedule time to watch
2. The films jumped from NBC to FOX and back again, making it difficult for families to find
Fortunately, Walmart and P&G have addressed these two big concerns. The Hallmark Channel will televise the Walden Family Theater—and it has agreed to run 30 of the partnership’s films before year’s end, all on Friday nights (six of these slated to be original).
Tonight, the first Walden Family Theater flick comes to the small screen. The film is titled Return to Nim’s Island. I saw the original Nim’s so I’m more than a little optimistic. And I believe these films are being made for all the right reasons. Here’s what Brian Wells, executive producer of Walden Family Theater, said recently during a teleconference:
“Moms are desiring … great entertainment with … high production value that calls out what is best in us as human beings … entertainment that the whole family can sit down and watch together.”
A study funded by P&G found that “69 percent of moms wished there was more family friendly programs they [could] enjoy with their kids.” But I know that it’s not just mothers who are looking for some good family friendly entertainment.
I’m excited about this new endeavor. And if you tune in and like what you see (or just support it for the sake of children), let us know here in this blog. And, if you’d like to express your appreciation more directly, wander over to Walden Media’s Facebook page or the Return to Nim’s Island Facebook page and thank them for their efforts.