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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

 

E-mail to Odyssey members and friends

Yesterday I sent my first e-mail letter to the members and friends of the Odyssey Networks in my new position as their Senior Vice President for Philanthropy & Faith Community Relations. Here is the text of that letter (the actual e-mail letter also included the Odyssey emblem, my photo and signature):

+++++

January, 2010

Hello!

For those of you who do not know me, I am the Rev. Eric C. Shafer, Odyssey’s new Senior Vice President for Philanthropy & Faith Community Relations. I began my ministry with Odyssey on the 4th of this month, so I am definitely the “new kid in town!” However, as many of you know, I have a long history with Odyssey Networks, stretching back to the beginning of our work together in 1987 and 1988. Most recently I served for four years on the Board of Trustees of our “parent,” the National Interfaith Cable Coalition (NICC), where I was the Finance Committee Chair and on the Executive Committee.

It is a real pleasure to have now joined the staff team here in New York and to be working with our new President, Nick Stuart, and the others on this very fine staff. You can read more about me on Odyssey’s website at http://www.odysseynetworks.org/AboutUs/Staff/tabid/78/Default.aspx .

I look forward to hearing from you and visiting with you at your office (and I do respond to invitations!) Let’s talk soon about how we might get together.

I will be attending the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) Convention in Nashville from February 26 – March 2 and hope to connect with those of you who will also be at that convention. Please let me know if you plan to be present so that we might get together in Nashville.

More important is our gathering of Odyssey member representatives just prior to the Religion Communication Congress 2010 (www.rcc2010.org) in Chicago, April 7 – 10. An Odyssey member meeting will be held at the Chicago Marriott Hotel Downtown at 540 North Michigan Avenue, the location of the Congress, on Wednesday, April 7, beginning at 3:00 p.m. We will finish our time together in time for us all to get the Congress’ opening banquet that evening. At that meeting we will outline the new member structures which are being put in place to improve our member relationships and contacts and describe this year’s member production grants. I know that at least a dozen member representatives have already indicated to my assistant, Steve Tofte, that they plan to be present. I am pleased that, in addition to these folks and several Odyssey staff members, representatives of our newest member, Harran Productions Foundation (www.harranfoundation.org), will also be able to be with us that day as will the Rev. Dr. James Wind, President of the Alban Institute and chair of the new NICC Board of Trustees Membership Committee.

I know that many of our members are presently heavily involved in numerous aspects of disaster response work following the Haiti earthquake. We would be happy to link to your video and print pieces from the Odyssey website – please let Mat Tombers know of your Haiti relief work and how we might connect to it – mtombers@odysseynetworks.org .

Mat is also interested in knowing what sort of short form materials you might have for Odyssey’s new mobile network that will be launched later this year. Through our contract with GO TV, Odyssey will be the premium mobile “app” for religion and faith materials. In addition to your content, Mat is also interested in your thoughts about what else we should be providing for faith-seeking mobile users.

In addition to our new Odyssey “channel” for mobile, we will be re-launching the Odyssey website, www.odysseynetworks.org, later this year. The new website will be an interfaith online network to share your short and long form video materials. Again, speak with Mat (who will be with us in Chicago in April) about your content and interest. Also later this year, Mat will begin an intranet site for staff and members only so that we can have easy ongoing contact and sharing.

Part of our new member benefits will be an annual membership meeting. Members have already asked that this session at least include workshops, showcases and a producer’s retreat. This year this gathering will be held during/around the meetings of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Communication Commission. Their meeting is September 28 – 30 in Washington, D.C. How we will interface with their meetings (sessions during, before and/or after) is not yet clear, but I wanted to share these dates so that you might hold that week for member meetings. We are doing these sessions with the NCC for the obvious reason to save on travel expenses (and to reduce our “carbon footprint”) and the obvious common interests and staff who might attend both sessions. Thanks to the NCC’s Pat Pattillo for his willingness to hold our meetings cooperatively!

Well, this is probably enough (even too much!) for my first communication with you all! I plan to communicate with you regularly and would welcome your response!

Here is a summary of my many requests in this missive:

· Your invitations for me to visit with you in your offices
· Contact if you are planning to be at the NRB meeting in Nashville
· Your presence at our April 7th Odyssey member meeting in Chicago
· Your Haiti relief materials for our website content/connection
· Your content for our new Odyssey mobile network and your ideas for other content that should be part of this network
· Your content for our renewed website, www.odysseynetworks.org and
· Your hold on September 27 – October 1 for possible member meetings and workshop sessions

Thank you for staying with me through all of this! I look forward to our continued contact.

The Rev. Eric C. Shafer
Senior Vice President
Philanthropy & Faith Community Relations
Odyssey Networks
475 Riverside Drive, #530
New York, New York 10115
eshafer@odysseynetworks.org
Voice – 212-870-1030
Fax – 212-870-1040
Cell – 267-222-0964

Friday, January 15, 2010

 

Visionary Leaders for Children's Television

A week ago today Art Clokey, animator and one of the creators of Davey and Goliath (www.daveyandgoliath.org), died at age 88.

The New York Times ran a fine obituary (see www.nytimes.com/2010/01/11/arts/television/11clokey.html?ref=obituaries) and the ELCA news service wrote a very fine remembrance also (see www.elca.org/Who-We-Are/Our-Three-Expressions/Churchwide-Organization/Communication-Services/News/Releases.aspx?a=4385).

Clokey was the last living member of the original team which put Davey and Goliath together in the late 1950's and 1960's. These visionary men and women (Art & Ruth Clokey, Dick Sutcliff, Nancy Moore, Marshall Stross and Frank Klos) gave children a gift which, thanks to new communication formats and distribution, may be nearly eternal!

Davey and Goliath, a stop-motion animated television series for children, was first broadcast in 1960. The show focused on Davey Hansen and his talking dog Goliath, who acted as Davey's conscience. Storylines carried uplifting, moral lessons on topics such as responsibility, care for the environment, acceptance of all people, and other valuable lessons designed to affirm a child's faith in God in an entertaining way. Davey was one of the first television programs to feature non-white characters and, while produced by the Lutheran Church, was non-sectarian in its approach to faith. A ground-breaking episode on racism ("The Polka Dot Tie," tame by today's standards) was even delayed by the television networks as too controversial! I'm told the animators changed the title and put it on anyway!

Art & Ruth Clokey, creators of the well-known Gumby & Pokey series, made the Davey and Goliath programs using doll-like figures with animated faces. Eventually, the cast of the show grew to more than twenty characters.

In all, 65 15-minute episodes and six half-hour specials were produced by the former Lutheran Church in America (one of three church bodies that merged to form the ELCA in 1988). For 20 years, as many as 183 television stations broadcast the episodes on Saturday and Sunday mornings by 1980. Davey and Goliath won several Gabriel Awards and was featured in the International and American Film Festivals. Episodes continue to run on 15 - 20 cable stations across the country.

The nostalgia craze (fueled by us Baby-Boomers who grew up with Davey) helped Davey and Goliath remain popular after production stopped in 1975. The pair has been referenced on such programs as The Daily Show, Will and Grace, Project Green Light, The Simpsons, Friends and Mad TV, as well as in films such as Dead Man Walking, Frailty and Dogma.

Take a look at the testimonials from viewers on the Davey website - www.daveyandgoliath.org/testimonials.html . There was (is) something about Davey and Goliath which continues to connect with people of all ages!

I got involved with Davey during my time as Communication Director for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) from 1992 - 2006. In the late 1990's, under the direction of Kristi Bangert, who now serves as ELCA Executive Director for Communication Services, and Ava Martin, ELCA Director for Public Media, we began activities to bring Davey back into production. We licensed many products (most are now out of production but available on EBay and other places online) and reintroduced the past episodes on DVD (available on amazon.com and many other places).

In 2002 we also licensed PepsiCo to use the Davey characters in a commercial for the soft drink Mountain Dew. (This was a controversial move, but really introduced Davey to a new generation of children and youth). You can find the commercial on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RaDxcVPxB3g.

In front of 40,000 high-school age and adult Lutherans, Davey and Goliath appeared on stage at the 2003 ELCA Youth Gathering. A new 90-second Davey and Goliath video on baptism was part of the Youth Gathering appearances. We also produced several television "spot" ads, for evangelism and disaster response, using the Davey characters. The ELCA's publishing house, Augsburg Fortress, used Davey for their 2004 and 2005 Vacation Bible School curriculum.

In 2003, ABC television affiliates across the USA and Canada showed, Oh Davey!...History of the 'Davey and Goliath' Television Series. This one- hour documentary traced the history of Davey and Goliath from its origins in 1958 to that time (see www.daveyandgoliath.org/documentary.html).

And, in the first major new Davey production in nearly 30 years, in 2004 the ELCA produced a one hour Christmas television special, Davey and Goliath's Snowboard Christmas, which was broadcast on the Hallmark Channel and featured Jewish and Muslim characters for the first time (see www.daveyandgoliath.org/snowboard/index.html). Clokey Productions, with both Art Clokey and his son Joe actively involved, produced this new program for us. (Art and Joe liked Ava Martin so much that they immortalized her as a character in this production, Ranger Ava!) Ava Martin, Kristi Bangert and I are listed as executive producers of this program. As you can imagine, I got to know Art and Joe well during these years. (Also their attorney, Bela Lugosi, Jr. - yes, the son of the actor who played Dracula!)

At John L. Peterson's suggestion, the Luther Institute (www.lutherinst.org, now related to the ELCA's Gettysburg Seminary) honored the founders and creators of Davey and Goliath with their Wittenberg Award in November of 2004. There are wonderful photos online at www.daveyandgoliath.org/wittenberg_award_photos.html . The last photo in that gallary includes Art & Joe Clokey, Marshall Stross and me. Ruth Clokey was too ill to attend and Dick Sutcliff also could not attend. Frank Klos' widow Sally, accepted on behalf of her late husband.

There is much more online at www.daveyandgoliath.org, Davey's official website.

With Art's death, the last of this generation of visionary leaders and animators are gone. But, because their work lives on through the internet and DVD's, their contribution to children will continue.

Thanks be to God!