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Documentaries for network TV enable RTVC to reach millions


FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–The letter read: “My family and I happened across the airing of ‘Circle of the Earth’ last Saturday, Jan. 4, on Channel 13 in Houston. It was a great production and we were thrilled to find out as we watched the credits that our Radio and Television Commission produced it. Great work.”

The letter was signed by Michael T. Zimmerman, pastor of First Baptist Church, Bay City, Texas.

The program to which he referred, “Circle of the Earth,” is a one-hour documentary about the faith of astronauts and others involved in America’s space program. It was produced by the Southern Baptist Radio and Television Commission for the ABC television network.

For many years the RTVC has annually produced a one-hour television documentary for ABC and another for NBC affiliates. In addition, the agency has been responsible for bringing Christmas and Easter services of various SBC churches to network television.

“We have a great relationship with both ABC and NBC,” said Jack Johnson, RTVC president. “We also serve in a consulting capacity with CBS on its religious programming.”

The documentaries are done “in-house,” with partial funding from ABC. The time in which the documentaries are aired is provided free by network affiliates.


“We’re talking millions of dollars worth of free television time over the years,” Johnson said. “And the major reason why we receive free time is that we produce quality television programs. Whether it’s a documentary or a Christmas or Easter special produced in conjunction with a Southern Baptist church, the networks know they’re going to get a quality production.”

A few months after a documentary airs on television, it is available in video from the RTVC. The agency sells the videos for $19.95 each, plus $3 shipping and handling. RTVC-produced videos can be ordered by calling 1-800-292-2287. All major credit cards are accepted.

The most recent video, “Circle of the Earth,” includes stories of adventures in space from Apollo lunar astronaut Charles Duke and shuttle astronauts Joseph Tanner, Jerry Ross and Nancy Currie.

Gene Thomas, launch director of Challenger, relives the January day in 1986 when the shuttle exploded, killing all aboard, and how his faith helped him deal with the tragedy.

Alexander McCool of the Marshall Space Flight Center, who supervises the manufacturing and operation of shuttle rockets, also provides testimony as to how faith in God is the top priority in his life.

The documentary is narrated by Academy Award winner Cliff Robertson.

Bob Thornton, RTVC vice president of television services who was supervising producer and writer of the Circle of the Earth script, said, “I think this documentary is as strong as anything we’ve ever done. It doesn’t water down the gospel in any way. Those who watch will discover that the gospel is integral to the lives of everyone featured in the program.

“I loved doing the script and have a very good feeling about it. I think it is very strong.”

Circle of the Earth is the ninth documentary done for ABC by Bernie Hargis, who produced, directed and edited the project.

“This one has as much or more Christian content than any we’ve ever done,” he said. “The people we interviewed are very upfront with their testimonies of faith.”

Hargis, who has two Emmy nominations, said he thinks there is a tremendous interest in the space program as a result of movies such as “Apollo 13.”

In the documentary, Thomas talks about the Challenger disaster, and notes, “Without Christ in my life … without being a Christian … I could not have coped with that.”
Astronaut Tanner describes his feelings after being in orbit for about 30 minutes on a shuttle mission. “I could see that the curve of the earth … that the earth is round,” he said, “and I was overwhelmed at that point by the thought that God had created a world here for us to live in … and he knows every one of us.”

Tanner said people ask him if he had any sort of spiritual experience in space. His answer: “No, I had one of those before I went.”

He, his wife and two sons are members of University Baptist Church, which is near the Johnson Space Center just south of Houston.

“The most important thing in my life,” Tanner said, “and I sense in the life of our family, is that we are living up to the potential of being the people that God has created each of us to be.”

Astronaut Currie related, “When I take a photograph from space and bring it back, there is no film in the world that can accurately capture how truly beautiful the universe is, and that’s because God made the planet. God made those colors and man made those films … and man could never do quite as good.”

About being in space, astronaut Ross said, “Once you get into orbit and things have tamed down a little bit and you have a quiet period where you can float to one of the windows and look down at the beautiful earth going by … there really is a sensation of awe … and a very large appreciation for the beautiful earth that God has given us to live on … and it just renews a lot of the feelings and emotions that I have about the earth and about the fact that God created it specifically for us to have and to enjoy.”

Other RTVC-produced videos available include:

— “Rejoice Always,” a 30-minute interview with convicted cop killer Stephen Nethery, one day before he was put to death by lethal injection. Nethery’s confession of remorse, his incredible love and humble submission to God conveys a powerful message. This video has been shown in prisons throughout the country and has led to many conversions.

— “Wings as Eagles,” a 60-minute program detailing the work of chaplains aboard the USS Carl Vinson, a Nimitz-class nuclear aircraft carrier that spearheads a battle group of several ships. Ministering to more than 5,000 pilots and sailors aboard the carrier, the chaplains offer unusual stories and testimonies to God’s grace.

— “Beneath the Big Sky,” a 60-minute video that includes the story of a bivocational pastor in Montana, with scenery capturing the state’s magnificent beauty.

— “Northern Lights,” a 60-minute documentary on the northernmost Southern Baptist church in the world, in Alaska’s Arctic Circle, and the missionary zeal of its pastor and members.

— “La Frontera,” narrated by Glen Campbell, a 60-minute video of stories of Christian heroes on the Texas-Mexico border who provide for the poor, the sick and the vulnerable.

— “Haiti: Mountains and Hopes,” a 60-minute video on the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, looking beyond the political to the courageous Haitian people and the Christian volunteers who deliver help and hope.

— “Nicaragua: Finding Peace,” a 60-minute video relaying stories of a Southern Baptist missionary, a Mission Aviation Fellowship pilot and committed Christians in the Miskito Indian village of Saupaka.

For a full list of network documentaries produced by the RTVC, write to 6350 West Freeway, Fort Worth, TX 76150.
“We’ve been producing award-winning programs for ABC and NBC for more than a decade,” Johnson said. “What makes each of these documentaries so special is that they spotlight ordinary people doing extraordinary things because of their love and devotion to Jesus Christ.”