Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: To explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no man has gone before.
If you're a Star Trek fan like me, you've no doubt heard these words many times, and perhaps lamented the fact that the original series failed to complete that five-year mission. The show was canceled at the end of its third season after airing a total of 78 episodes. Yet, years later, it was resurrected into a series of successful movies and several spin-off series. It still endures today.
To me, the measure of success in television is if a series lasts longer than the original Star Trek. Let me tell you about one of them, the cable-television series "Lutherans ALIVE!"
On the morning of March 25, 2003, I had no idea what was in store for me that day. At a meeting that evening Diane Lowe proposed that we consider developing a local cable television program highlighting members of the Lutheran community. I immediately volunteered to join the study task force.
We met via e-mail, exchanging ideas for content and how to fund this venture. By mid-April, we had settled on a talk and variety show format, two on-air hosts, and the show's title. Diane and I assumed the roles of "Co-Executive Producers." Neither of us had any television production experience. We had to learn by doing. We dubbed our newly formed production company "Sacramento Lutheran Television" and I developed the website SLTV.org to promote the show.
We were quick to recruit a number of interested folks to serve in various staff roles of publicity, fund-raising and script writing. The technical aspects of the show were to be handled by RCCTV, the religious arm of the Sacramento Cable Commission, which operated a studio on K Street. We expected to be relegated to a middle-of-the-night time slot, but we were fortunate to land a prime time position, Saturday night at 8 P.M., for our weekly show.
We developed a trial pilot season of thirteen episodes to air weekly from the premiere on September 6, 2003 to the final show on November 29. We taped on two days in August to record the first five shows. Giving ourselves a full day for the first two shows, we barely produced our 30 minute show in the time allotted. On our second taping day, we "boldly went" forward and recorded three more shows. Finally, two weeks later, we taped four shows in a single day. When we went on the air for the first time, we had nine shows ready, and taped the remaining four the following month, a total of thirteen produced in just under two months.
During production, I assumed the role of "floor manager," calling the shots from an off-camera position. From the initial "5-4-3" to the final "Cut!" I relayed instructions from the control room using hand signals, and between show segments of eight minutes each, coached the show's hosts and guests on how it would flow. Before long, we had a smoothly running machine.
Shortly after our final pilot season taping, we had our first major crisis. Pastor Dan Bohline, who had appeared on three of the first thirteen shows, had been our go-to guy for musical entertainment, and was generally considered to be a show regular. He suddenly died on October 16. Although his death came as a shock, the show must go on, and we began to keep an ear out for someone to fill the hole in our on-air talent. As we began our second half of the now fully-extended first season, we were introduced to Jim "Fingerz" Jordan, organist at a local Lutheran Church, as well as a professional entertainer on the Delta King. He became our regular on-air musician in mid-2004 and continued that role throughout the remainder of the series.
With the second season, we began to explore some additional themes, using short drama sketches, and occasionally venturing outside of the studio to record guests who were unable to visit the studio on our regular taping day. One of the most rewarding experiences was interviewing a 103 year young retired hospital chaplain who lives here in the downtown area. By the end of the season, I began experimenting with putting copies of the show online, as well as developing a podcast of audio highlights. This continued until I was able to place the entire catalog of every show online, expanding our reach to a potential world-wide audience. This experience directly led to my being able to videotape and digitize some of our own Toastmasters meetings.
Our third season expanded our outside taping experiences, and also expanded our guest appearances to folks outside of the Sacramento area. However, by the end of the third season, our financial resources were drying up, as well as a bit of burnout settling in. We decided over the following summer to end the show with three finale episodes, which aired in the fall of 2006. We had exceeded Star Trek's run by six episodes.
Like Star Trek, "Lutherans ALIVE!" didn't get to complete its five-year mission. However, even though we are no longer in active production, the road ahead is open to all sorts of new projects, which could not have been imagined if we hadn't taken that first big step into television production. As Mr. Spock would say, "Live long and prosper," and we shall.