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“Television is democracy
at its ugliest.”
Paddy Chayefsky

“The TV business is uglier than most things. It is normally perceived as
some kind of cruel and shallow money trench through the heart of
the journalism industry, a long plastic hallway
where thieves and pimps run free
and good men die like dogs, for no good reason.”
Hunter S. Thompson

I had the kind of childhood that some lawyers might call a legal defense.  Amidst the horrors and uncertainty of physical, emotional and sexual abuse, there was one constant that I could turn to for comfort and solace – a 10-inch black and white Motorola television. 

Television allowed me to visit a world beyond anything I could imagine on my own.  It provided a template – a paradigm – for what a functional family could be like.  It introduced me to people who were doing their best to fit into a world that was complicated and frightening, yet manageable.  It showed me that there was a world outside of my own pain that I could aspire to become a part of. 

And that is why I truly believe television saved my life.

Today I am a happily married mother with three sons.  I do not have any substance abuse problems or sexual dysfunctions.  I do not have a criminal record.  I do not have any dark psychological issues seething beneath the surface ready to explode at any time.  I believe I was able to avoid these stereotypical “results of child abuse” because television enabled me to see there were other options. 

Television has also dominated my professional life.  I wrote scripts for television series like Hunter, Jake & The Fatman, The Love Boat, Hart to Hart, KnightRider, True Confessions, and Foul Play.  I served on the Board of Directors of The Writers Guild of America, west.  I am an Adjunct Professor of Communications, teaching courses about Media and Television that are broadcast LIVE on television and the Internet.  I was the Associate Publisher of Creative Screenwriting Magazine.  As if that wasn’t enough, I married a man who produces and directs television and LIVE Interactive Broadcast for the Internet. 

I’m one of those moms who keep the television going day and night.  In fact, there is a television in every room of my house.  As you might already suspect, my kids have always been allowed to watch as much television as they want and have been known to spend entire days sitting in front of it. 

In spite of being subjected to what some might call horrific maternal negligence, my kids are thin, healthy and socially popular.  They successfully load their class schedules with AP/Honors classes, take college classes during the summer and perform community service.  So, when I hear someone pose the theory that sitting in front of the television makes kids fat, lazy, stupid and/or socially isolated the first thing I do is shake my head and wonder how long they’re going to continue to deny the real reason anybody’s kids get backed into one or more of those terrible corners.

It all comes down to a simple truth – each of us longs for personal connections that are emotionally fulfilling.  If we have emotionally fulfilling relationships, television becomes a really great vehicle for delivering entertainment and information.  If we do not have emotionally fulfilling relationships, television enables us to transcend the pain and isolation that surrounds us so that we can imagine a sense of emotional connection to something.   

I truly believe that television has enabled positive social developments that might not have happened without it.  Sure, there are lots of reasons to turn off the television.  But, in this section, we’re going to explore the reasons to turn it on.

December 5th 2008

We’re at a point in time when network television viewership is trending downward.  The typical networks response is to give us more of the darker, edgier, false conflict filled drivel that we don’t want to watch.  But this Sunday – December 7th 2008 – on CBS we have a chance to sit down with our kids and our spouses and a warm cup of tea or cocoa to spend two hours immersed in a hopeful and uplifting story with characters we can care about and root for and hope to find the courage to emulate. 

FRONT OF THE CLASS is the inspiring true story of Brad Cohen, a likable young man who suffers from Tourettes Syndrome.  Unlike the stereotypical (and extremely rare) form of the syndrome that is typically portrayed as the comically-timed shouting of invectives, Brad suffers from uncontrollable ticks and “barks.”  The syndrome manifested at the age of 6 and was initially diagnosed as a defiant behavior that must be controlled by discipline.  Those of us whose kids were on the front lines of the special ed wars understand the pain and frustration of the experience – which is one of the things that makes this story so inspiring.  Unlike some of the previous (albeit rare) depictions of moms with special needs kids, Brad’s mom never dips into the well of being self-indulgent or pathetic – she merely does what needs to be done.  She looks for help in all the right places, and when help can’t be found she hits the medical books and does it herself.  Then she advocates for her son to get him what he needs and enable him to go where he needs to go. 

As the story progresses – and the Individuals With Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) pressures school districts to finally do what’s right for disabled kids – Brad decides that he wants to become the teacher he never had.  Naturally, this choice is met with skepticism from many sources – including Brad’s own father, who juggles the complex cornucopia of emotions that all parents of special needs kids carry in their back pocket 24/7.  But after 24 schools turn him down, one team of administrators sees the potential that just walked through their door and agrees to give him a job teaching 2nd grade.

Once Brad finds the job of his dreams, his father is able to begin making the arduous emotional journey to acceptance and understanding of who his son has become in spite of the Tourettes.  Along the way, Brad finds the courage to take one more step toward the life he wants – he tries online dating.  When he finds the sweetest, prettiest girl we could hope for him to find, we get to fall in love with her as he does.  You see, she doesn’t focus on the Tourettes – she sees through to the wonderful and powerful soul that has driven him so far and falls in love with him, too.

At the premier, I was blessed with an opportunity to meet Brad, his mother and his lovely wife.  They have the same kind of charm and good looks as the fine actors who portray them.  But in talking with them, I sensed their overwhelming joy at being able to tell their story to inspire others – which is exactly what will happen in at least one home this Sunday night when my husband and I sit down with our sons to watch this story again.  Our 22 year old son who suffers from multiple disabilities has never seen a story that positively portrayed someone like him – and that makes FRONT OF THE CLASS landmark television.

As always, Hallmark cares enough to send the very best.


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