Telling the story to adults
Thirteen programs for television produced by Mennonite Brethren Communications, Winnipeg.
The people at Mennonite Brethren Communications have learned something very important during their eight years of producing TV programs-that TV is primarily a medium for images and stories, rather than a medium for ideas.
Yet they feel as strongly about biblical ideas as anyone, and probably more so than many.
When the first program of their new 13-part adult series appeared on Manitoba TV screens just after noon on Saturday, February 19, some important ideas were communicated: people have responsibilities to those they live with; there are deeper realities under the surface of things; God forgives sin. But these ideas came through still shots of a girl doing homework, a sketch of life below the sea’s surface, a conversation between a girl and her runaway brother, and the story of how a young man sees a job through.
Producers Lorlie Barkman and Marv Thiessen have borrowed the name and format from their three earlier children’s series for this new adult series. Each program is tied together by a drama that takes place in the studio home of hosts Ron and Sharon Voth. Ron and Sharon are from Clearbrook, B.C., where Ron teaches at Columbia Bible Institute.
Interspersed throughout the program are segments which attempt to illuminate the theme of the drama: contemporary Christian songs with an interpretive visual backing, some written and sung for the earlier series by Harry Loewen, and several new ones written and sung by Larry Nickel, a teacher at Mennonite Educational Institute in Clearbrook; sketches called “Scribbits” by Lorlie Barkman; first-person narrations by Christians about daily life situations; stories from nature; and descriptions of family life.
The 13 programs explore themes like “hiding,” “waiting,” “neglect” and “hope.” Volunteer actors and actresses of various ages “visit” the host couple to provide the action and dialogue of the drama. In one program Canadian Conference Christian education worker Ron Penner and his wife Linda visit the Voths. In another program “Uncle Frank,” pastor Frank C. Peters of the Portage Ave. Mennonite Brethren Church in Winnipeg, drops in to help Ron figure out God’s intentions for man in a technological society.
Drama sequences were filmed in the studio of CKY-TV in Winnipeg (“they put their best camera crew on it,” says Lorlie Barkman), and other sequences were shot by Marv Thiessen at a variety of locations throughout western Canada. Ron Nickel, a student at Prairie Bible Institute, supplied several series of still shots.
Several years ago a Winnipeg Free Press writer claimed for Mennonite Brethren Communications that “never in the history of Canadian television production have so few operating on so little given to so many.” The budget for this adult series was $100,000, and it will likely be seen by more than seven million people through the local Canadian stations which agree to run it and through the U.S. Christian Broadcasting Network.
In spite of this marvelous economy, Barkman and Thiessen have created a product which shows quality, intelligence, and a good deal of care. CKY-TV wants to send a sample of the program to a competition of local Canadian station productions, and has been consistently enthusiastic about the new series.
Barkman and Thiessen have chosen a format which walks the treacherous no-man’s-land between high-budget secular TV drama and the preaching-and-talkshow style of other Christian programming. Their programs, which might strike some as being choppy, attempt to scatter images and stories of faith like seeds across the minds of their viewers.
After filming was completed on one studio sequence, a CKY cameraman remarked to Lorlie Barkman, “Hey, I learned something.” Explaining that he was not a religious person and did not watch religious shows, he added that Third Story was the kind of show which could “convert people.”
Knowing the direction of their hearts, I have to affirm the attempt of these producers to communicate the gospel in a way which is realistic to the way people talk, the music they like, and the concerns which occupy their minds. That attempt must be a lonely walk at times. But to this point, I haven’t seen anything on TV that does it better.
—Gordon Nickel, MB Herald staff