PROVO — When BYUtv committed to create a fall prime-time lineup of 10 original programs, BYU Broadcasting creative director Scott Swofford knew he had a serious undertaking on his hands — and then some.
"To come up with about 20 shows that make the air each fall, Hollywood listens to about 1,000 pitches, buys about 400 pieces of material and does 70 pilots," Swofford said. "From scratch and with a fraction of their budget, I had to create 10 new television series."
The content development process began with more than 200 submissions for show ideas. To whittle down the list of possibilities, Swofford and Co. employed a rather straightforward strategy.
"Sixty-five percent of our viewers show up on our station because they're just buzzing through the electronic program guide on their television and say, 'Oh, I'll watch that,'" he said. "Like any filtering process in the world, you sort of come up with a filtering strategy. In this case, the overwhelming reality is you have to entertain people."
All 10 shows in the fall prime-time lineup are BYUtv original content; five of the programs are brand new, and five are existing offerings set to start new seasons. Two of the debut shows generating the most buzz are "Turning Point" and "American Ride." Additionally, a three-hour special about the King James Bible titled "Fires of Faith" will also premiere in October.
The pilot episode of "Turning Point" begins with two emotive segues. First, the camera pans across several severely disabled children, each silently sitting in a wheelchair. "How can you tell that there's a mind in a being just by observing the being's behavior?" an unseen voice ruminates. "With a kid in a wheelchair who can't make any sound except maybe a grunt, who can't move his hands, who can't speak to you, the assumption is often, 'This is not an intelligent person.'"
The next segment leisurely alternates between more than a dozen people of various ages and ethnicities as they tell characteristics of their mother or father. After a smattering of fun responses (e.g., "my dad is Iron Man"; "my mom is a firecracker"), staccato camera shots cut quickly between every interviewee in short succession. Everyone intones either "my mom is Mary Beth Clark" or "my dad is Scott Clark."
Less than four minutes into this first episode, the poignancy of "Turning Point" possesses the potential to render viewers teary-eyed by catalyzing them to reflect on the family relationship in their own lives. The pilot proceeds to spotlight a technology allowing people with severe disabilities to operate a computer with their eye movements, as well as a family with 21 adopted children.
Each episode of "Turning Point" documents a couple of inspirational stories about people who consciously decide to make a difference in the world around them. Salt Lake City-based Cosmic Pictures produces "Turning Point." According to producer Sam Wallace, each episode involves 12 days of on-location filming.
It's common knowledge that television programming about historical events from centuries ago can border on boring. That's not a concern, though, for "American Ride."
Stan Ellsworth (who readers may know as bearded behemoth Jeremiah Jones from the 2006 film "Church Ball") is decked in denim and helming a Harley Davidson as the host of "American Ride." Be it Valley Forge, Lexington or Boston Harbor, Ellsworth hops aboard his hog and takes viewers to a different venue from the annals of U.S. history during each episode for a colorful examination of the people and events that shaped America.
"We want to educate people about who our Founding Fathers really were," said Ellsworth, "and help them know the true character of these legendary figures.
"American history is vast and magnificent. Sometimes it's troubling and violent. This ain't your high school history class."
"Fires of Faith"
The opening scene of "Fires of Faith: William Tyndale and the King James Bible" depicts the 1536 execution by strangulation of Tyndale, the first person to translate the Bible directly from Greek and Hebrew texts into English.
"Fires of Faith" is a three-hour docudrama detailing the background and inception of the King James Version of the Holy Bible. By opening with the untimely death of the 42-year-old Tyndale, whose original English translation is estimated to still comprise as much as 80 percent of the King James Bible, "Fires of Faith" captures the audience's attention right off the bat.
"Ever since the mortal ministry of Jesus Christ, there have been those who have sought to record his miracles and teachings, and to publish them throughout the world in the languages of the people," the "Fires of Faith" narrator underscores during the second hour. " (During the 16th century), William Tyndale in England and Martin Luther in Germany went back to the original Greek and Hebrew to translate the Bible into the common vernacular from the original sources.
"Little did anyone know how controversial an act that would prove to be — especially in England. Little did they know that the liberating words of the Prince of Peace could ignite a violent firestorm."
Filmed on location in eight countries, "Fires of Faith" premieres Oct. 16.
Although it's not part of BYUtv's big fall rollout, any discussion of BYUtv's present content wouldn't be complete without mention of "The 5,000 Days Project: Two Brothers." The film follows LDS brothers Sam and Luke Nelson beginning at ages 10 and 8, respectively, and documents the brothers' emotional and spiritual growth through adolescence and into the mission field.
The "5,000 Days" film premieres Sunday on BYUtv following the completion of the afternoon session of general conference.