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Faithville


THE ROAD TO TELEVISION
Taking Faithville from a live Sunday school environment to a nationally broadcast television show was a major step. The challenges included rewriting the shows to fit a TV format, finding suitable outside locations, and drawing up shooting schedules. However, by August of 1995, Faithville was ready to be Faithville: The Town That Lives After Its Name.

Heritage Village, located just outside of Windsor, graciously allowed Faithville to use its grounds for shooting purposes. Heritage Village is a natural fit for Faithville because, as its name suggests, the Village harkens back to past eras. While filming one of the episodes there, Tom muses that God added his humor to the show by directing one of the scenes.

"We were shooting an episode called 'Don't Compromise' in which Mr. I. Cutright, the town's barber, had decided to miss church service to go fishing. While standing up in his boat trying to haul in his catch, Mr. I. Cutright lost his balance and went headfirst into the water. This wasn't part of the original script, and everyone present was in stitches. We kept the cameras rolling as Mr. I. Cutright came up spewing water out of his mouth, while looking like a drowned rat."

Tom and two colleagues attended the National Religious Board Conference in the fall of 1995 with eight half-hour videos in hand. Faithville was the only children's program being marketed at that conference so it was a hot commodity.

The Vision Network was the first to show Faithville on a weekly basis, starting in December of 1995. And in March of 1996, Faithville debuted on TBN. When FamilyNet network -- the television arm of the Southern Baptist Ministry, located in Dallas, Texas -- started airing Faithville in September of 1997, the show could be seen across North America. To date, it has produced 52 half-hour shows in television and video format.

FAITHVILLE'S CHARACTERS

The characters in the Faithville Live Sunday school program are the same ones seen on television.

"We wanted real people who'd make mistakes like we all do, but also learn the love and forgiveness that God has for all who turn to him," says lead writer Geneinne Bondy. "And by giving them 'pun' names, children can easily identify each character portrayed."

Indeed, the town's general store owners Mr. and Mrs. I.B. Lieve, Mr. Doubt who runs the hardware store, and Mr. Phil R. Up who's the gas-station owner are people children can feel at home with.

The 20 performers who act in Faithville are volunteers from the 1,500-member congregation of Windsor Christian Fellowship, Faithville's home church. Although they're not trained professionals, they're all naturals when it comes to acting. As Mr. Richard Landau, executive producer of The Vision Network says, "The characters are so well-played that it's easy to see a part of yourself in any of them. The people acting make you laugh and make you feel a part of the show."

A PERSONAL TOUCH

Although Faithville has achieved celebrity status, its people haven't forgotten what brought about the show's initial success -- personal contact with kids. Television can be an impersonal media, so to reach out and touch the viewers, counselors take phone calls within a two-hour window of the show's airing.

"We want the kids to know that we're here for them," says phone counselor Wendy Pierce. "We don't raise funds during air time, but we do give out Faithville's phone number after each episode. I've had boys and girls from all walks of life call in. Some have really enjoyed the show, while others are struggling and need to know we care about them. My job is to lend a listening ear and give encouragement to those in need."

The Faithville Citizen Club has also grown by leaps and bounds. Each member becomes an honorary Faithville citizen and receives a Faithville Kid Club bimonthly newsletter, as well as a gift on his or her birthday. To date, more than 2,500 boys and girls have joined from as far away as the Persian Gulf.

Prayer is also a personal connection to Faithville.

"When someone phones in with a prayer request, it doesn't go by the wayside," says Tom. "Every request is written down and given to the prayer intercessors who meet weekly at Windsor Christian Fellowship. We've had requests for family salvations, deliverance from drugs and alcohol, and marriage reconciliations. It breaks my heart when a little one asks us to pray so that 'Daddy won't hurt Mommy anymore.' God is serious when it comes to prayer, and so are we."

LOOKING TOWARD THE FUTURE

Faithville's success has brought it to a crossroad in its broadcasting life. Even though it still has a vast audience to reach, Tom is already looking toward the future.

"Faithville may be geared toward children, but we've had a number of adults contact us, especially seniors. We'd like to start an outreach for them as well. We're looking at calling it the Years of Excellence club," says Tom.

"If we can raise additional revenues, I'd also like to have Faithville branch out into at-home lessons where people can teach themselves how to read and write through video instruction. We're also contemplating a spinoff production called The Miss Charity Show, based on Faithville's immensely popular waitress who works at Taste and See, the town's diner."

Wherever God leads Faithville, one thing is for sure: Humor and God's Word will be the basis of any further endeavors. As Tom always says, "Anything taught with pleasure is learned full measure." cm

Simon Presland is a free-lance writer in Essex, Ontario.


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