In the weeks and months ahead, Catholics looking for quality television programming that suits their moral and social sensibilities need look no further than programming supplied by the Catholic Communication Campaign.
"Our motto is 'How the Good News Gets Around,'" said CCC executive producer Ellen McCloskey. And as winter begins to set in, TV viewers will be able to get both warmth and light from their set.
The first CCC project is "Picturing Mary," which is being offered to public TV stations nationwide in December. The hourlong documentary looks at how artists depicted Mary from centuries ago to more modern times. Because it's not on the national PBS schedule, viewers will have to be aggressive about checking their local listings — or calling their city's PBS affiliate — for dates and times.
"It's a very good companion to 'The Face: Jesus in Art,' which continues to air on public TV stations at Christmas and Easter," McCloskey said. Some stations, she added, plan on showing "The Face" and "Picturing Mary" back to back. She offered her hopes that patrons of the new movie "The Nativity Story" will be inclined to tune in to "Picturing Mary."
In January, those same public TV stations will be offered "Lives for Sale," produced by Maryknoll Productions. The documentary looks at the immigration issue but pays close attention to human trafficking. "Traffickers will encourage women, 'Come to America and I'll give you a job,'" McCloskey said, although the ruse doesn't become apparent until it is too late. The issue will get its own cinematic treatment come spring with the film "Trade," starring Kevin Kline.
In February, another public-TV documentary that got partial funding from the CCC will air on selected PBS stations in time for Black History Month. "Sisters of Selma" examines the role nuns, many of whom were in the St. Louis area, played in the civil rights struggles of 40 and more years ago in Selma, Ala.
"It's very, very powerful," McCloskey said. Not only does the program examine Catholic advocacy in civil rights, it also "addresses some of the changes we were going through in the Catholic Church at the time," she added.
"Many of the sisters — the women who marched at the time — are still alive," McCloskey said. "There's a lot of good archival footage. Then you see them (the sisters) on the screen in the present day, and they look the same."
Catholics will also get a triple treat if they're watching TV on Christmas Eve after their late local news. ABC, NBC and CBS will each broadcast Catholic-themed programs.
ABC's entry is a CCC production, "Celebrating Light and Hope," from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, with Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan. CBS will air a Christmas Eve compilation of lessons and carols from St. Joseph Cathedral in Sioux Falls, S.D. It's the 10th anniversary of the program at the cathedral. While the show will contain the readings and hymns customary to the event, expect "a little more variety to it," McCloskey said. Florida Catholic
NBC, as it has for decades, will broadcast Christmas Midnight Mass from St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City, with U.S. Archbishop John P. Foley, head of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, serving as a guide to the rituals in Rome. "Now if we could only get something on Fox," joked McCloskey.
On a more serious side, she said that with televangelists on the tube seemingly nonstop, "people ask where the Catholic Church is on television. Here, in this situation, you can say, 'Here's the Catholic Church. It's not as noticeable, perhaps, as a televangelist. But here, you have a documentary on the church and the arts ('Picturing Mary') and on the church and social activity — today ('Lives for Sale') and 40 years ago with civil rights ('Sisters of Selma').
"I hope we can do more."