For years, “family-friendly television” has been practically an oxymoron.
But on Sunday, April 20, Martha Williamson, executive producer of the family favorite “Touched by an Angel,” returns to television after a 10-year absence with the debut of a new program called “Signed, Sealed, Delivered.”
WND obtained a preview copy of the first two episodes of “Signed, Sealed, Delivered,” which reveals the show is heartwarming, funny, inspiring and, perhaps most significantly, a program adults and children alike can enjoy sitting down and watching together.
“That was the goal,” Williamson told WND, “to create a show that we could all watch together and still be entertained.
“‘Touched by an Angel’ was on the air at a time when the networks still considered families a target audience,” Williamson continued, “but as you’ve seen over the last 20 years since ‘Touched by an Angel’ first premiered, the landscape of television has changed significantly. But the audience hasn’t gone away. People are still having children; families are still looking for things to do together.
“I actually stopped working after ‘Touched by an Angel’ wrapped to raise my own children,” Williamson explained. “And I found myself standing at the back of Wal-Mart against that wall where all the DVDs were, looking for things we could all watch together, and it was either little kid stuff that certainly entertained our children but after a while my eyes started to glaze over, or there were more sophisticated and adult things to watch that were not appropriate or just not interesting to our children. I realized I was standing next to all kinds of parents looking for the same thing, and we would all bemoan the fact that we couldn’t find something to watch.
“I kept expecting somebody to recognize the success of ‘Touched by an Angel,’ thinking it should be mirrored by someone else, and it never quite seemed to happen,” she said. “So, I finally said once our children are up and running, let me see if I can go back to work and put something on television again that I feel strongly about and encourages and elevates our families.”
The result is “Signed, Sealed, Delivered,” an original series combining romance, comedy and drama following the lives of four postal workers who transform themselves into an untraditional team of detectives to track down intended recipients of undeliverable mail. Their missions take them out of the office into an unpredictable world where letters from the past can change lives when they arrive late, but somehow just on time.
“Signed, Sealed, Delivered” stars Eric Mabius (“Ugly Betty”), Kristin Booth (“The Kennedys”), Crystal Lowe (“Smallville”) and Geoff Gustafson (“Primeval: New World”). Special guest stars announced to-date include Valerie Harper, Della Reese, Valerie Bertinelli and Marilu Henner, who will portray supervisors in a revolving role featuring television icons.
“Signed, Sealed, Delivered” premiers Sunday, April 20, at 8 p.m. ET/PT, 7 p.m. Central, on the Hallmark Channel.
Williamson told WND the remarkable story of how “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” was born: “After ‘Touched by an Angel’ wrapped, I started cleaning out my office, and I found a huge box of old fan letters I had not been able to read before and I sat down and started going through them. I found stories of people who said, ‘The message of your show touched me, encouraged my family.’ There were stories of people who had sadly considered taking their own lives or a woman whose brother had gone missing and was homeless and she went out and found him, inspired by an episode of ‘Touched by an Angel.’ We got letters from people who were in prison who said, ‘We all stop on Sunday nights to watch that show because it’s the only time we ever hear the words I love you.’
“I realized even though these letters had been delivered late to me, they arrived right on time, just when I needed to read them, and I got to thinking, what does that mean?” she continued. “Look at all the letters in the post office that get lost, for one reason or another, not always the post office’s fault, but a letter gets lost in the mail and it doesn’t get delivered for weeks or years. But sometimes, I bet, it arrives just when it’s supposed to arrive to touch somebody’s heart. That got me thinking, what if we had this wonderful, little secret service in the post office that decides to start delivering these letters and helping people who need to receive them?”
WND asked Williamson if “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” would appeal more to faith viewers or to a more general audience.
“There is no ‘or’ in that sentence,” Williamson answered. “Absolutely, we will be discussing elements of faith, exploring what it’s like to be a person of faith living in the 21st century. And we seek a more general audience; that’s our great commission, to go out and seek the lost and the hungry, to seek those people who are looking for something spiritually to encourage them.
“‘Touched by an Angel’ was perhaps easier to do because it was about angels – angels didn’t have to have faith, they are servants sent by God to touch us and to deliver good news and to deliver truth. But when you’re dealing with people in the post office, all they have is faith. So it becomes a harder show to write, in some ways it’s more exciting to me, because I love weaving in biblical Scripture,” she continued. “And every episode reflects the heart and soul of a man named Oliver O’Toole, who’s the head of the dead letter office. He’s a man of faith – he goes to church, he sings in the choir – but he also struggles with what it means to be human, to make mistakes, even though he tries to do the right thing.”
Williamson also gave WND a peek into what goes on behind the scenes and how her faith influences the show.
“Each week we find a Scripture in our writer’s room on which to base our story,” she explained. “It might be ‘for I know the plans I have for you, plans to give you a future and a hope,’ or there might be ‘to everything there is a season’ and we talk about God’s perfect timing. We talk in one episode about what it means to be equally or unequally ‘yoked,’ and we do it in the context of people working out their faith with fear and trembling.
“It is so inclusive in the way we address it, so that some people who might have even avoided ‘Touched by and Angel’ because they were afraid it might be preachy, might step in earlier in the process with ‘Signed, Sealed, Delivered,'” she said. “This time, the show is really a dramedy – there’s comedy, there’s drama, there’s romance – but at the heart of it is a man named Oliver who is trying to live out his faith.”
Hallmark is planning on airing 10 episodes of “Signed, Sealed, Delivered,” but Williamson told WND churchgoers in particular have a role in helping the show to continue beyond its initial run.
“We need to get the word out,” Williamson explained. “We did the same thing with ‘Touched by an Angel,’ because there were people who just didn’t think there would be an audience for that. We talked to churches – it’s something people do all the time now when they have a faith-based movie they want to promote – and ‘Touched’ became really the first entertainment product written by a Christian with the intention of supporting solid, faith-based, family values without being preachy. We want to provide quality television entertainment that’s not a Christian show, it’s a show written by a Christian. The more those things happen and the more successful they are, the more positive, faith-based entertainment will proliferate.
“It starts,” she concluded, “with getting the word out to the churches.”
Williamson made television history when her CBS series “Touched By An Angel” grew to a weekly audience of 25 million viewers during its initial nine-year run. Williamson also became the first woman to solely executive produce two, one-hour programs simultaneously with “Promised Land,” which aired for three years on CBS. Her work has been inducted into the Television and Radio Hall of Fame and honored with numerous awards, including the Edward R. Murray Responsibility in Television Award, the Templeton Prize Epiphany Award and nine Emmy nominations.