God bless CBS.
Sure, the Tiffany network owes viewers a gigantic apology for scheduling sex joke sitcoms like "Ladies Man" and "Work With Me" in the 8 p.m. hour this fall, but it's still the only network airing inoffensive TV movies that warm the heart every Sunday night.
Gag if you must, but there's an audience for soft programming (witness the success of NBC's "Providence"), the kind of shows that comfortably entertain without pushing the proverbial envelope.
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When: Oct. 17 at 9 on CBS.
Starring: Farrah Fawcett, Ashley Crow, Brad Johnson
"Silk Hope" fits the bill. It premieres tonight at 9 on KDKA as a prodigal daughter tale. Farrah Fawcett stars as Frannie Vaughan, a Southern wild child who returns to her hometown of Silk Hope, N.C., to see her beloved mother.
While Frannie was out tromping about like a trashy tramp, mama up and died.
Frannie's practical sister, Natalie (Ashley Crow), is understandably full of resentment. Frannie was nowhere to be found when their mother needed to be taken care of, so it all fell to Natalie.
Frannie tells Natalie to loosen up, Natalie says she craves security and then they clash over the disposition of the family homestead.
Natalie and her fiancÚ, Jake (Scott Bryce), want to sell; Frannie wants to keep it in the family and move in herself. To earn money to buy out her sister's share, Frannie decides to become a pig farmer. That lasts only until Frannie bonds with one of the piglets.
"Silk Hope" threatens to demonize Natalie for acting responsibly, but it skirts that stereotype and makes her frustration as understandable as Frannie's free spirit.
Beth Polson, executive producer of last year's "The Christmas Wish," serves the same role with "Silk Hope." She also gets credit for the television story, written by Dalene Young based on the book by Lawrence Naumoff.
"Silk Hope" is a feel-good movie, but it rushes to wrap up loose ends in a scattershot manner. Plot turns that should be major are brushed off with expository dialogue that makes the production seem even less weighty than it is.
At a press conference with TV critics this summer in Pasadena, Calif., Polson said "Silk Hope" will appeal to Baby Boomers who might be ready to change their lives the way Frannie does in the film.
"As we face the back nine as Baby Boomers, we all re-evaluate what's important in life," Polson said. "And a lot of what's important is where you came from, what your values are."
Fawcett said the changes Frannie experiences attracted her to the role.
"As the audience, you get to see this character grow," Fawcett said. "That's inspiring to audiences, to see that there is hope. You really get to see her change and go through emotional drama and pain and change into something that probably she always knew she should have been and her mother wanted her to be."
When Frannie decides she wants to keep the family farm, she gets a job at the antiquated textile mill where Natalie works. It's a step toward responsibility, albeit an awkward, wobbly step.
Throughout "Silk Hope" Fawcett displays a more comedic side and a naive innocence not usually associated with a woman whose body plastered the walls of teen-age boys' rooms in the 1970s. In one scene Fawcett even goes dirt diving, trying to win a cash prize by catching a pig at the county fair.
"Your biggest fear as a producer is how do I tell this woman she's got to chase pigs?" Polson said. "Her first day with the pigs, she was great. ... We put a stunt person in to do the pig scramble because you don't want to hurt your actress. Well guess what? The actress was so much better than the stunt person that we ended up using all the original material because she had no fear of pigs."
In many respects, "Silk Hope" is a stereotypical CBS program. Ask anyone with TV savvy which network is most likely to make a show about the rural South and farm animals and that person is sure to respond, "The address is CBS!"
That's OK. Let NBC program schlock like "Road Rage." CBS will likely stick with its successful formula for sentimental stories.