May 8, 2014 By Tony Rossi
That’s one of the truths that former “Touched By an Angel” writer and executive producer Martha Williamson hopes to pass on to viewers in her new and refreshingly retro Hallmark Channel series, “Signed, Sealed, Delivered,” which airs Sunday nights at 8:00pm.
The show’s got a unique concept, and also that special Williamson touch, which allows it to be entertaining and funny while sharing stories that touch the heart and inspire you to be a better person.
Don’t Pour Dirt on the Post Office’s Grave Just Yet
“Signed, Sealed, Delivered” is about four postal workers in the dead letter office who go above and beyond their job descriptions to track down the intended recipients of mail that’s been damaged or detoured.
Eric Mabius stars as Oliver O’Toole, the team’s chivalric and old-fashioned-in-a-mostly-good-way leader; Kristin Booth portrays Shane McInerney, the bold and bemused technophile who adds a modern sensibility to the group; Crystal Lowe is the stylish, comically-charming, romantically-frustrated Rita Haywith; and Geoff Gustafson plays the shy, good-hearted, often-oblivious Norman Dorman, who is the object of Rita’s romantic frustration.
In light of the post office’s recent financial troubles, partially caused by people communicating via email and the internet, what made Martha Williamson choose this particular setting for her story?
During a recent interview on “Christopher Closeup,” Martha recalled feeling exhausted after the end of the Christopher Award-winning “Touched By an Angel’s” nine season run, so she decided to take a break from TV and focus on her husband and two daughters. A few years into her sabbatical, she was going through a storage room and discovered fan letters she had never seen. Not only did these letters, many of them handwritten, express an appreciation for “Touched By an Angel,” but they revealed stories about ways in which the show had changed viewers’ lives.
For instance, said Martha, “We got a letter from a gentleman who was in prison and said that he and his fellow inmates would watch the show every Sunday night because it was the only time all week they ever heard the words, ‘You are loved.’”
Those letters became a source of encouragement for Martha, who had started wondering if the work she had done really mattered. It then occurred to her that they arrived in her life right on time, just when she needed them most. “I saw a certain amount of Providence in that,” she noted.
She also started wondering, “How many lost letters arrive in people’s lives just when they need to read them? What happens?” That idea percolated in Martha’s brain for quite some time, eventually leading to “Signed, Sealed, Delivered.”
Giving Chivalry a Shot in the Arm
The series includes other inspirations from Martha’s life as well, not the least of which is imbuing the character of Oliver with many of her father’s virtues. Born in 1901, she says, “He carried a little bit of the Victorian Era with him…and he always remained a gentleman. He was always that man who opened the door for anybody; not just a lady, but anybody. He was always the person who made sure that you didn’t walk out of the house into the dark into your car without being escorted. He always treated everyone with respect. And I thought, ‘Gosh, where are those men?’ Eric Mabius has said to me that he really loves playing a man who can encourage other men to be both masculine and tender. You can still be kind, you can still be a gentleman. Being a gentleman doesn’t make you a wuss.”
Another element from her father’s life that Martha incorporates into the show is his faith. She says, “Oliver is a man of faith. He attends church, he sings in the choir. We see him praying and turning to his faith in order to encourage others as well as himself. But we also know that you are not immune to heartbreak or disappointment or terrible things happening to you because you’re a person of faith. What you do have, though, is a resource for getting through it. I know that those things happened to my father, and he went through a lot of real sadness before he met my mother and started his family. And it was his own personal faith that got him through.”
To Elevate and Encourage
Martha’s depictions of believers are incredibly respectful respectful because she grounds her portrayals in reality, not caricature. She sees negative stereotypes of people of faith in other shows and feels “distressed” at the “anger towards faith and religion.” The believers in her life “have done nothing but be supportive and always look for ways to translate their faith into action.”
For Martha, writing itself is a prayerful, spiritual experience. She prays before writing every script, asking for guidance and noting that “prayer is a two-way street” in which she needs to be open to listening for God’s inspiration. She also recalls the words of her father who once told her, “Make sure that what you do elevates or encourages, and doesn’t tear down.”
That elevation is evident in “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” episodes, such as the one about an Afghani girl trying to reconnect with the American soldier who gave her an education and saved her life. But it’s also there in subplots, like one in which Norman bonds with an elderly woman in a retirement community over their shared love of stamp collecting. Martha wanted those scenes to share a message about how we as a society treat our elders.
She said, “Because my father was so much older, I not only spent time with him as an elderly person, but with his friends. And the greatest mistake we can make is to discount the power of what those folks have to offer. Let’s face it, I’m not that far away from being one of those people! It would be a real shame to not be able to share what I’ve learned or what I have to offer with somebody.”
Based on response to “Signed, Sealed, Delivered,” Martha’s vision of stories that celebrate the best of human nature are striking a chord with audiences. Not only are women watching the show, but more men and younger people are as well. The series has also inspired a devoted fan base on Twitter, using the hashtag #POstables.
Martha is thrilled that there’s still a call for her type of storytelling that families can watch and enjoy together. “It’s telling me,” she says in a “Field of Dreams” moment, “that if you broadcast it, they will come.”
(To listen to my full interview with Martha Williamson, which includes even more stories and insights, click the podcast link):