I had this vague memory of a TV variety special the LDS Church produced in the late 1970s called “The Family … and Other Living Things.” I couldn’t remember much about it other than it had the Osmonds and Gary Burghoff. It was talked about a lot in church as a major missionary opportunity.
Turns out it was made in 1976 and shown only in select TV markets and then broadcast again in 1978 more widely. It took some work to track this down, but here’s the first mention in the October 1976 Ensign:
Church to Produce Television Special
“Church to Produce Television Special,” Ensign, Oct. 1976, 89
Saints in the United States and Canada will have a great opportunity for missionary work as the Church produces an hour-long television special in November.
To be aired in evening “prime time” during National Family Week, which begins November 21, the program is designed to remind everyone of the importance of the family.
It is suggested that members invite their nonmember friends into their homes to view the show, which will feature leading Latter-day Saint actors and entertainers as well as some nonmember artists.
The program will be professionally produced in Los Angeles and will include Church “commercials” that invite viewers to write in for information on the Church and its belief in the family unit. Nonmembers desiring Latter-day Saints to call at their home to present material on the Church may so indicate when they request a special booklet that is being prepared. The booklet is based on material published in the family home evening manual.
Members will be informed about television channels and program times through wards and stakes, along with information on how members can be a part of this important step in Church and television history.
The February 1977 Ensign,carried this summary of the program’s success:
Church Television Special Brings 90,000 Responses
“Church Television Special Brings 90,000 Responses,” Ensign, Feb. 1977, 94
“Thank you so very much for that beautiful television presentation. I certainly did enjoy it. It really gave me food for thought. Perhaps I will be successful in putting the thoughts into practice as I raise my two sons, with whom I have difficulty in communicating. Thank you for helping me see where I can improve our family life.”
This letter was typical of the 90,000 viewer responses received on “The Family … And Other Living Things,” a special one-hour television program produced by the Church and viewed in more than fifty major television markets throughout the United States.
The program, the first of its kind offered by the Church, was syndicated through local television stations, many of whom cancelled their regular, prime-time network broadcasting.
With a serious underlying message that love, effort, and communication are the basis of better family relations, the program took a tongue-in-cheek approach to everyday family situations. It had its poignant moments, too, and it included three “commercial” messages that illustrated how improvements could be made in the parent-child relationship.
Each message invited the viewers to call a special telephone number or to write in to Church headquarters for an eight-page booklet entitled It’s Next Week, which contains an extension of the program’s message.
Fifty telephones were installed on the twenty-eighth floor of the Church Office Building in Salt Lake City, where volunteer hostesses accepted requests for the booklet not only during the viewing times of the show, but also for many days after each broadcast.
The program was first carried by a television station in Raleigh, North Carolina, on November 20. Three weeks later it received a final viewing on December 13 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. …
For some, just watching the program was enough. They telephoned for the missionaries. For others, there was a special response. One young mother-to-be wrote: “I am 5 1/2 months pregnant with our first child. As my husband watched the show I saw him, for the first time, laugh, cry, and want this child, and it made me warm all over.”
[photo] Some 600 volunteers answered telephone calls and addressed and mailed the requested copies of It’s Next Week to viewers across the country.
I was 12 years old when the show was broadcast, and I remember thinking it was extremely cheesy, sort of in the same vein as the Sonny and Cher and Donny and Marie variety shows, but a lot more in earnest and serious. Coming close on the heels of Boyd K. Packer’s landmark talk, “The Arts and the Spirit of the Lord,”, it’s interesting to see what the church saw as “appropriate” art that was consistent with the Spirit and with the mission of the church.
I was quite pleased to find a clip from the end of the show on youtube: The Family And Other Living Things (Ending Excerpt, 1978).
Obviously, the show is quite dated and cheesy, but if you were alive back then, you know that the production values and content are similar to what was being broadcast on the networks at the time (anyone remember Tony Orlando and Dawn?).
I think it’s an interesting artifact showing the church’s first attempt to use national broadcast television for its message. Their next attempt was “Mr. Krueger’s Christmas” in 1980, and the Ensign article announcing it specifically referred to wanting to “capitalize” on the success of “The Family.”