As a boy I got up early in order to watch cartoons on Saturdays. I did the same on Sundays but back then, in the mid-60s, television on Sundays was a little different than it was on Saturdays. First there was a politically incorrect test pattern, then film of four jets doing a flyover while the national anthem played. The first program featured a barbershop quartet and that was followed by a Lutheran soap opera. That’s neither a typo nor a punchline. I had not much Christian teaching so This Is The Life, produced by the LCMS, along with Davey And Goliath, produced by the United Lutheran Church, served as my televised catechesis.
I knew that This Is The Life was religious. I remember one scene in which an actor I recognized from primetime explained to a prisoner that the Psalms contained the whole range of human experience. I have no idea why I remember that except that, perhaps, it was contrary to my assumption (then) that the Bible was out-of-date and irrelevant to modern life.
It’s interesting that a confessional Protestant denomination produced what, even at this distance, seems like a professional soap opera with a Christian message. The writing, acting, and production values were on par with the day time soap operas that Grandma watched (she called them her “stories”). The Christian message was explicit but it wasn’t over the top. The episodes showed sin and grace. In the episode linked below the program also affirms the Bible as God’s Word, Christ as the way of salvation, and the necessity of connecting with a local congregation. The episodes also, however, reflect their time and serve as an interesting time capsule, a snapshot of the culture (e.g., tensions between pretensions of urban sophistication and rural simplicity) and a witness to the relations between Christ and culture in the 1950s and 60s. The episode linked below is monochrome but I remember the program being racially integrated.
All these years later, the program is still interesting. I intended only to watch the first segment but I wanted to see how it came out so I watched all three segments. I don’t recall any confessional Reformed churches attempting the same thing. The Christian Reformed Church has dabbled in television. I remember Joel Nederhood doing a TV show in the 80s but it was not a drama. It’s interesting that the LCMS (and United Lutherans) chose story telling (narrative) as a way to try to reach an increasingly secularized, urbanized America in the 1950s, 60s, and beyond. The Wikipedia entry says that This Is The Life ended its run in the 1980s. I suppose there might be a connection between the end of the run and the reduced need for public service programming after deregulation.
It would seem that a well-written, well-acted, and well-produced television/internet video series would be an effective outreach tool. Are any of the confessional Reformed denominations producing anything like This Is The Life for cable or the Internet?
Here’s Davey And Goliath: