Tuned In: TV writer’s goal is to offer inspiration

By Rob Owen / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

A lot has changed in prime-time television since writer Martha Williamson executive produced and wrote CBS’s “Touched by an Angel” in 1994. Back then the general public was usually unaware of the identity of the writers/producers responsible for spearheading TV shows — the term “showrunner” had yet to achieve widespread circulation — and though few and far between, the broadcast channels did occasionally make family shows.

That’s less true today, which is why Ms. Williamson’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” debuts as a TV movie on cable’s Hallmark Channel at 9 p.m. Saturday. It will become a 10-episode weekly series in 2014.

“The kind of storytelling that I do, which is intended to be inspiring, uplifting, positive entertainment that families can watch together, does not have a home on the major networks as much anymore,” Ms. Williamson said. “I found it difficult to find a network that is truly family friendly in prime time.”

“Signed, Sealed, Delivered” stars Eric Mabius (“Ugly Betty”), Kristin Booth (“The Kennedys”) and Daphne Zuniga (“Melrose Place”) as postal workers in Denver who take it upon themselves to become lost-mail detectives, ensuring that waylaid letters make it to their intended destination. In each episode these postal carriers interact with different characters whose letters they find and deliver.

Ms. Williamson said the show, previously titled “Dead Letters,” was originally developed at CBS.

“It was a somewhat darker show, edgier for Martha Williamson and not edgy enough for network television,” she said, praising CBS Studios executive David Stapf for his encouragement when the show moved on to Hallmark. “It was not so much that CBS was not interested in positive entertainment. The anthology idea, which it was at the time even more than it is now, was not something they were interested in.”

The show’s title was changed more recently after enough people asked her if she was making a zombie or monster show after learning she was working on “Dead Letters.”

“When we heard that, we knew we were on the wrong track,” she said. “You have to admit, ‘Signed, Sealed, Delivered’ has a ‘mission accomplished’ tone.”

Ms. Williamson said the show’s concept was inspired by her own experience in college receiving a letter late from the then-love-of-her-life who was planning to meet up with her; she hadn’t heard from him and thought she’d been dumped.

“It had been sitting in the post office for a month and I discovered it two days before we were to meet,” she said. “If I hadn’t gotten that letter I would have missed out and I wonder how my life would be different. That letter was the beginning of something that led me to California so you can imagine how different my life would be.”

She was also inspired by all the fan letters she received during the run of “Touched by an Angel,” letters she didn’t have time to read until the show ended.

“I couldn’t help but wonder, where are they now? What happened to these folks?” she said of the viewers who wrote to her. “Those letters came to me late but in many ways they were right on time because it’s a huge letdown after a show ends and it’s easy to ask yourself, what now? What difference did you make since you’re only as good as your last show? To read those letters and see we did make a difference in people’s lives, that’s huge. So those letters came to me just when I needed to read them.”

Fans who tuned into “Touched by an Angel” for the show’s spirituality theme may not find that quite as prominent in “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” but it is innate to at least one character.

“Near the very end of the pilot we discover Oliver, the Eric Mabius character, is a guy who considers himself to be a man of faith and identifies himself as that and it’s something I’m very happy about because we don’t make it a big deal,” Ms. Williamson said. “We don’t shine lights on it and go religious and we don’t stereotype him in one way or another. I like the idea that you have someone whose whole character … isn’t What Would Jesus Do? but is about trying to live his faith. He may well ask that question of himself but it isn’t the only thing we think of when we see Oliver.”

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