“The Family” wasn’t designed as a sneak attack. In creating the newly released five-part documentary series for Netflix, director Jesse Moss wanted to be very upfront about his goals for profiling the secretive organization known as The Fellowship.
Using the experiences of reporter Jeff Sharlet as a starting point in his research, Moss wanted to present a full view of the organization’s history, using a bevy of filmmaking styles and techniques to connect the Fellowship’s decades-long journey from a small prayer gathering to a global entity that sways public opinion in countries around the globe. So rather than request interviews or access under vague or misrepresented pretext, Moss wrote the organization directly about his aims.
“At the beginning of the process, I went and wrote a letter to the Fellowship that said, very straightforward, ‘I would like to come and talk to you about your work. I’d like to come and visit the Cedars,'” Moss said, referring to one of the Fellowship’s central DC meeting places. “If I could come and be there with my camera and not ask questions, I’d love to do that. And of course their polite response was, ‘No, you can’t do any of it.’ And we persisted and worked from the outside in, and slowly gained the trust of some people who are considered themselves affiliates or friends of the Family who did sit down and talk with us.”
“The Family” includes a number of on-camera interviews with Sharlet — clergy who have become disaffected by the group’s aims — and international political figures who’ve traveled in Fellowship circles with varying levels of direct interaction. But Moss also incorporates conversations with a few individuals who are still close to the central infrastructure of the organization. Given his transparent aims for the series, he said that the interview process with these individuals didn’t have the tension or combativeness you might otherwise expect.
“I didn’t feel like I was walking on eggshells. There were no ground rules to the interview. Once they agreed, we went in and talked for hours. It wasn’t like I went in with a Mike Wallace hit-list,” Moss said. “We started this interview with Larry Ross and he wanted to have a prayer with us before we started. And that’s pretty unusual. I don’t think I’ve ever interviewed somebody who wanted to start an interview with a prayer. When we were in the edit room, I thought it was an important moment and almost more interesting than anything he said.”
Another notable individual who participated in the series is former President Jimmy Carter, who helped Moss illustrate the series’ goal is not to issue a blanket denunciation toward those who value their own faith. It’s the accompanying lack of transparency that becomes a central point of condemnation throughout what “The Family” is chronicling. When he started work on the series, the timeliness of that conclusion is one that Moss wasn’t even sure would even be there.
“People of faith have a role and a place in public life and politics. Talking to Jimmy Carter about his faith as president, that’s an important conversation. But why is this organization so secret? What are they actually doing?” Moss said. “A big question for me in embarking on the project was, ‘Are they relevant today?’ Jeff’s book came out 10 years ago. But on our watch, Maria Butina was arrested, charged with spying and infiltrating the National Prayer Breakfast. I think it links back to the kind of international alliance between those in the Christian right and how issues around LGBTQ rights are often the focal point of those alliances and how those cultural wars that have been lost in some cases in the United States are being fought elsewhere.”
As the runaway train of the 2020 presidential campaign barrels toward next November, there will be a number of programming decisions scrutinized through the lens of a perceived attempt to sway potential voters. FX faced tough questions at the Television Critics Association press tour last week about the timing of their upcoming Clinton impeachment-themed season of “American Crime Story.” Moss said the choice to release the series this summer was more a function of the ending they discovered. Understanding how this avowed Evangelical group rationalized their support of a Trump presidency was a more pressing focus than trying to include the uncertainty of what’s to come.
“I didn’t think too much about the electoral calendar. When we started the project late in 2016, the Alabama special election was the one electoral event that I thought might have some relevance, not that it had anything to do with The Fellowship, but it was a really extreme conversation,” Moss said. “But we’d have two years of the Trump administration to really look at his faith advisory council, and arriving at some deeper understanding of the theology [International Christian Leadership founder] Abraham Vereide envisioned, in which you preach to the up and out and not the down and out, that politicians are chosen by God, that Donald Trump is God’s chaos candidate, God’s instrument. That just helped me understand the current moment. The carnage of the 2020 election, that’ll be its own horror show.”
One of Moss’ biggest breakthroughs was attending the National Prayer Breakfast, a gathering that’s as important to “The Family” as the series argues it is to the Fellowship as a whole. Going to the 2018 edition, Moss was not only able to get some first-person perspective on how the vaunted event functions, it also led to some chance encounters that helped change the scope of the series.
It was in an elevator that Moss met former Congressman Mark Siljander, who eventually agreed to an interview when requests through more traditional channels had proven less fruitful. And it was in an open Q&A session that Moss crossed paths with a group of Portland residents who would help bring about one of the series’ more surprising turns: When Moss went to visit them last May, their one stipulation for agreeing to take part was that Moss participate in the group’s activities.
“I’ve never been in a small group like that and felt challenged by other men to be honest with myself. I found that kind of bracing and I thought, ‘This is a group I might actually go to more frequently if it was near where I live.’ I think the conversation around race felt very honest and real and I respected it,” Moss said. “I don’t think that’s where I or the audience expect to end up in Episode 5, but it’s where we found ourselves. I think it does represent something very true about the fellowship that I think Jeff [Sharlet] experienced that when he went to Ivanwald and you see a little bit of it in the dramatization, the intensity of that male brotherhood.”
True to form, the Fellowship has not yet made any official statement about “The Family.” But Moss hopes that members within and around the organization do take the time to watch, so they can see the attempts it makes to fill in areas surrounding previous public accounts.
“I’d like them to see beyond what Jeff Sharlet has to say,” Moss said. “They probably what, like, everybody would want — something very genial, benign, or flattering, but that’s not going to do anybody justice. My hope is that they see the conversations that we had in which they’re allowed to represent who they are and their beliefs in their own words. They should trust the audience, too, hopefully.”
Comedian and 2 Broke Queens star Phoebe Robinson is headed to Comedy Central.
Robinson is set to star in and executive produce an interview series for the ViacomCBS-owned cable network, which has ordered 10 episodes. The untitled show is the first project from her recently formed production company, Tiny Reparations.
The series will feature one-on-one interviews and "unique experience" with pop culture luminaries. Robinson, who describes herself as a workaholic who usually works from home, will leave the house and meet the people she's admired from afar.
"This show will hit that sweet spot between educational and charmingly ignorant," said Robinson. "Who doesn't love that? Well, all older black people who struggled and marched for my rights. But besides that, everyone else does!"
Robinson has an overall deal at ABC Studios; sources tell The Hollywood Reporter the Comedy Central show was in the works before her ABC pact was finalized and thus falls outside it.
"Phoebe is everything we look for in a creative partner. She's hilarious, brilliant, relatable and not afraid to be provocative," said Sarah Babineau and Jonas Larsen, co-heads of original content at Comedy Central. "This unique format is the perfect vehicle for her, as she gets some of today's most fascinating people to show us a new side of themselves, while we also get to spend more time with the incredibly compelling Phoebe. We're fortunate to be working with her on this series and can't wait to get started."
Robinson co-hosted the iTunes-topping podcast 2 Dope Queens with Jessica Williams, which spawned a short-run comedy series on HBO. The podcast ended in November 2018. She's also a best-selling author You Can't Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain and hosts a solo podcast called Sooo Many White Guys. On screen, she's appeared in What Men Want, TBS' Search Party and Amazon's I Love Dick.
Robinson will executive produce the interview series with Michael Davies of series producer Embassy Row Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.
Robinson's show will be the latest addition to Comedy Central's talk and unscripted lineup that includes flagship The Daily Show, the recently launched Lights Out With David Spade, The Jim Jefferies Show, Tosh.0 and the upcoming Good Talk With Anthony Jeselnik.
It's been one of the fundamental quandries of the presidency of Donald J. Trump: How can a man so overtly dedicated to the banality of evil still retain widespread support among Christians?
This is the question that Netflix's newest harrowing documentary, “The Family,” attempts to answer over five episodes. Directed by Jesse Moss “The Overnighters” and produced by Alex Gibney's Jigsaw Films, the limited series is based on the non-fiction investigations “The Family” and “C Street” written by Dartmouth College journalism professor and religious scholar Jeff Sharlet. And while the answer isn't presented as cut-and-dry as it could be, “The Family” is a profoundly troubling examination of the theocracy that wields power behind-the-scenes in Washington D.C.
The Family, officially The Fellowship Foundation, is an aggregation of non-profit organizations that ostensibly work to spread the word and adhere to the teachings of Jesus. As Sharlet revealed in his books and as Moss expands on in “The Family,” however, there is a very thin line between evangelizing the work of Jesus and seeking access to those in power through spiritual obligation.
The temptation to call it a fringe group must be resisted; through interviews and documentary footage, Moss reveals that the organizers and members of The Family have played a significant part in Washington D.C. politics since Dwight D. Eisenhower's presidency. They are the organizers of the National Prayer Breakfast, and in the documentary the event is revealed to not be as benign as the name implies.
Via interviews with current and past members and true believers and skeptics in the faith community, “The Family” delves into the hierarchy of the secretive organization and its development into a behind-the-scenes powerhouse under its longtime associate director, Douglas Coe, who died in 2017. The narrative is helped immeasurably by the first-person account of Sharlet, who was unwittingly recruited into the organization and invited to live at Ivanwald, a communal living/indoctrination center for young men in Arlington, Va.
As the series unfolds, Trump's actions that are seen as inexplicable and irredeemable by the secular press – and full disclosure here: I'm worse than a secular member of the media, I'm a Unitarian – are revealed, through incredible leaps of logic and stunningly short-sighted Biblical interpretation, to actually be victories to this community that seeks power through proximity to important figures.
Trump is a “flawed vessel,” the “wolf king” that can wield power in Jesus' name like no other. The Bible shows that great men can sin grievously – ever hear of King David and Bathsheba? In that light, his reprehensible actions don't matter as much as the fact that Trump was chosen by a higher power, a selection that automatically puts him in a category unto himself. We are all Chosen, apparently, but some are much more Chosen than others and those people are to be deified.
The big frustration with “The Family” is that it explores so many different tentacles of the organization that it fails to come to a cohesive whole. The five hours could have spent drawing a clear throughline between the history of the Foundation and its impact – yes, complete with Russian meddling at the National Prayer Breakfast – up to the election of Trump; instead there are asides that aren't as compelling, such as Moss' participation in a local prayer group and visits to several foreign countries to see the international impact of the The Family's efforts to advocate for anti-gay legislation.
In addition, recurring re-enactments of Sharlet's experiences at the youth center run by The Family give it an unintentional CW cast-joins-a-cult vibe; most jarring in these sequences is the appearance of instantly recognizable James Cromwell as Coe.
The message, however, remains undiminished. There is a theocracy behind our country's most baffling choices and its refusal to act is why a truckload of straw bales hasn't been enough to break the camel's back when it comes to some Christians and their love of Trump. The biggest sin of all, it appears, is believing in predestination.
The five episodes of “The Family” are available today on Netflix.
James Farrell, head of international originals for Amazon Studios, said during a TCA summer press tour panel Saturday that hopes are high for The Family Man, an action drama launching in September.
India as both seedbed for storytelling and emerging commercial marketplace is a territory Amazon has long been committed to, and the company indications that this show can keep the ball rolling.
“I think it’s going to do really well,” he said of the 10-episode series. “It’s not a coincidence this is the one we’re featuring here today.”
Amazon’s two top-performing international originals from outside of the U.S. among U.S. viewers are both Indian shows, Farrell added, though he didn’t quantify that any further. “We know we have a big audience here. We’re super-excited about this one and there’s a lot more coming. … We’re super-bullish.”
Establishing production ties in India has long been a priority for Amazon on a broader corporate front as many companies see it as an emerging market with lower barriers to entry than other global territories. Netflix also has put a stake in the ground in India, bidding aggressively for projects and announcing earlier this month the launch of a mobile-only version of its service that will debut in India.
Manoj Bajpayee, an established Bollywood star, anchors the cast of The Family Man. Per Amazon’s description, the show is “an edgy action-drama series, which tells the story of a middle-class man who works for a special cell of the National Investigation Agency. While he tries to protect the nation from terrorists, he also has to protect his family from the impact of his secretive, high-pressure, and low-paying job.”
Bajpayee said the show will connect him with viewers not only in the U.S. but in 200-plus countries, in different languages. “For the first time, people who don’t speak Hindi or weren’t aware of my work” will get a chance to see him, he said. “It’s great for me to reach out to each and every corner of the world.”
Raj Nidimoru, the show’s co-creator, producer, director and writer, said the show has a very “pan-India” essence. It blends dialects and languages including a bit of English as well as mixing physical locations stretching from Mumbai to Kashmir to Syria. Bajpayee said shooting on location in Mumbai drove the crew “crazy,” with a din of car honks, shouts and street noise some of which was throngs of people shouting his name.
Despite the goal of reaching a broad audience, Nidimoru said nothing was watered down at Amazon’s request during production. Farrell said a reference to the “26-11 attacks,” which refers to the Mumbai terrorist attacks in November 2008, was allowed to stand because “audiences today are so smart” and the material has more impact if it is not over-explained.
“We didn’t have to underline anything,” Nidimoru said. “The more local the angle, the more global it gets. … It’s fun to see that [the character] are like you, but they’re also dissimilar.”
Jerry Seinfeld starts off the new season of Netflix's Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee with a bang, recruiting Eddie Murphy for a drive through Los Angeles in a modern Porsche.
For Seinfeld, who is now on the 11th season of the show after originating it at Crackle, Murphy was a longtime dream guest, and "a nut you want to crack," he told The Hollywood Reporter. "You want to get inside the shell and get to the nut inside, literally in my case. And I feel like we brought a certain feeling or perspective on Eddie that people really want to see and maybe have been missing."
The two comedians have run in the same circles for decades, starting stand-up at the same club in New York on the same week, in July of 1976. Murphy has rarely been in the spotlight in recent years, and "I thought people would really like to see him again," Seinfeld added.
Ahead of this season's premiere on Netflix, the streamer held a small screening and conversation between Seinfeld and Murphy in LA on Wednesday. Held at The Paley Center for Media, the star-studded comedy crowd included Sebastian Maniscalco, Neal Brennan, Bill Maher, Yvette Nicole Brown and Netflix boss Ted Sarandos.
During the conversation, the stars remembered their early days, when Seinfeld hit it big first. "You had it together as a person too, you were the first comic that had a nice car," Murphy joked. "We were all standing outside like, 'Look at Seinfeld's Saab! He bought this with jokes!' That was amazing to us."
Seinfeld also spoke about what this particular episode with Murphy meant to him, saying, "I love that people enjoy the show, but just to be with him for that day, that's why I do it."
"My favorite thing is when you tell the story of bombing and then getting in the car and going to the dinner to eat and just laughing and laughing," he continued. "That was the most addictive part to me about entering this world; all of a sudden not only was I doing comedy, but I was hanging out with these people, and you find out 'Oh we're all the same, we all have this weird thing where we see life differently.'"
Murphy also fielded questions about returning to stand-up, and said he has thought about giving it another go.
"You've got to start all over again, but there's no way around that process; you have to go do it that way," he said of how he would prepare for a comeback. "We're talking about a lot of rust. Actually, I think I would be like a fish to water; it's who I am."
Outside of his current venture, Seinfeld also addressed his past one. At a time when massive titles like Friends and The Office are igniting streaming bidding wars, the comedian says he doesn't know about the future of Seinfeld and if it will end up at HBO Max.
"I haven't heard anything. I know it's going to be up for grabs, but I don't know how all of that stuff works," he told THR. He added that he may like to see it turn up at Netflix, though, calling it the best place he's ever worked.
"I'm very happy at Netflix to be honest. I like the people there and I like their creative perspective on how they handle their artists," Seinfeld said. "They're very smart, it's a very nice place to work. I love it."
Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee starts streaming on Netflix Friday.
On this special episode of The Hollywood Reporter's 'Awards Chatter' podcast, an all-star team of THR experts joins host Scott Feinberg to dissect the 71st Emmy nominations — THR's editorial director Matthew Belloni, chief television critic Daniel Fienberg, west coast television editor Lesley Goldberg and senior television writer Michael O'Connell — and then three-time Emmy winner George Schlatter, the legendary producer best known for creating and producing the classic NBC sketch comedy series Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In 1967-1973, joins Scott for a look back at his 60 years in the business.
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LISTEN: You can hear the entire interview below.
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Schlatter was also behind Real People, one of the earliest examples of reality TV, which ran on NBC from 1979 to 1984; The American Comedy Awards, which ran on several different networks between 1987 and 2001, and was revived in 2014; and many other memorable shows and specials. His most recent credit? 2019's Laugh-In tribute Still Laugh-In: The Stars Celebrate, which brought together stars of the original Laugh-In e.g. Lily Tomlin and comedy stars of today e.g. Tiffany Haddish, was recorded at the Dolby Theatre on March 8 and dropped on Netflix on May 14.