December 16, 2016

Random Acts… Finding “My Christmas Love” a Joy

Posted in Entertainment, Movies, Relationships, Television, Women at 3:22 am by dinaheng

When it comes to holiday movies, Hallmark Channel’s Countdown to Christmas is a sure bet for films that convey the nostalgia and true meaning of the season.

This weekend, a sweet tale about a children’s book author who’s always searching for – and never finding — the perfect love, unfolds in “My Christmas Love,” which airs Saturday, Dec. 17 at 8 p.m. Eastern.Dinah Eng

In the movie, author Cynthia Manning (played by Meredith Hagner) returns to her family home for her sister’s wedding, and invites her illustrator and best friend Liam Pollak (Bobby Campo) to join her for the holidays.

When a series of presents, reflecting each day in “The 12 Days of Christmas,” is delivered to her father’s doorstep, Cynthia is convinced that one of her former boyfriends is behind the deed.

Jeff Fisher, the director of the film, was hooked by the premise.

“I love romantic comedies,” Fisher says. “If you go on a journey with someone in the film, and they find love and happiness, you’re along for the ride. Romantic comedies make people happier when they leave the theater, their TV or their phone.”

Fisher, who has produced reality TV shows (“Keeping Up with the Kardashians”, “Flip It to Win It” and others), says “My Christmas Love” is a return to the genres he loves best – romantic comedies and musicals.

Bobby Campo and  Meredith Hagner star in "My Christmas Love."  Copyright 2016 Crown Media United States LLC/Photographer: Fred Hayes

Bobby Campo and Meredith Hagner star in “My Christmas Love.” Copyright 2016 Crown Media United States LLC/Photographer: Fred Hayes

“My first short films were in those genres,” Fisher says. “To pay those films off, I got some reality TV jobs, then my first movies (“Killer Movie” and “Killer Reality”) were off issues from the reality TV shows.”

“My Christmas Love” is probably as far from horror and reality TV shows as audiences can get. The importance of celebrating Christmas with family is central to the plot, as Cynthia’s dad, Tom Manning (Gregory Harrison), is a new widower who must be encouraged to get out into the community to enjoy the spirit of the holidays again.

As Cynthia searches for her “true love,” her father reminds her that life’s answers are often right in front of our noses.

“I liked Cynthia’s Nancy Drew personality, looking for who sent the presents,” Fisher says, “and I loved the twist of who’s behind the gifts.”

The film, he says, was shot in various cities in Utah, which offered a good tax incentive to the filmmakers.

Shooting the film in Utah, however, may be the reason why the film lacks diverse casting. The only minority face in the movie belongs to actress Yolanda Wood, who had a brief speaking role in the beginning of the film playing Sandra, the hostess of a café that Cynthia often patronizes.

“There can always be more diversity in films,” Fisher says. “I don’t know how diverse Salt Lake City is, since a lot of our supporting actors came from there.”

Regardless, love is a universal language, and the holidays are meant to be celebrated. To see whether Cynthia finds her true love, tune into “My Christmas Love.”


February 1, 2015

Random Acts… Choices never easy, even in ‘Hindsight’

Posted in Entertainment, Television, Women at 1:51 am by dinaheng

Decisions, decisions.

We make thousands of decisions every day, both major and minor, which affect everything from our health to personal relationships to our careers. Those choices, in turn, affect the people around us – both those we know, and those we don’t know.Dinah Eng

Most of us probably spend a lot of brainpower parsing out the major decisions, analyzing problems to death, for fear that we’ll make the wrong choice. Yet the best choices are usually the ones that come instinctively from the heart.

Think of a really big moment in your life 10 or 20 years ago. Did you make the right decision? If you had to do it over again, would you make the same choice? If you chose differently, how different would your life be today? Would you still have ended up in the same place?

In “Hindsight,” a new drama on VH1, a woman named Becca (played by Laura Ramsey) explores those questions on the eve of her second wedding. Thinking about her former best friend Lolly (Sarah Goldberg), and the argument that ended their friendship years ago, triggers an out-of-this-reality trip to the past as Becca suddenly wakes up in New York City on the morning of her first wedding day in 1995.

Becca (Laura Ramsey) and Lolly (Sarah Goldberg) in "Hindsight." Photo courtesy of VH1.

Becca (Laura Ramsey) and Lolly (Sarah Goldberg) in “Hindsight.” Photo courtesy of VH1.

Will she still marry Sean (Craig Horner), knowing now that her artist fiancé was a man who never took responsibility for his own life? Will she continue working for the boss who never seems to recognize her talent? Will she make things right with the best friend who was her sister of the heart?

Life’s choices are never easy. We make decisions from limited points of view, hoping for the best outcomes. We never know how our decisions will affect others, so the best we can do is be gentle with our words and kind with our actions.

If we’re lucky, whatever our choices were, we won’t have to live with regret.

The choices Becca makes takes us all on an interesting journey of “what ifs.”

You can catch “Hindsight” on Wednesdays at 9 p.m. Eastern on VH1.

May 21, 2014

Millenial-minded Pivot seeks network niche

Posted in Business, Entertainment, Politics, Television at 12:46 am by dinaheng

Nine months after giving birth to Pivot, an entertainment network aimed at inspiring Gen-Y viewers to push for social change, network president Evan Shapiro is one happy programmer.

While Pivot (like Netflix) is not rated, Shapiro says viewership is ahead of projections, and advertisers and cable companies are clamoring to get Pivot’s research findings on the coveted demographic every network wants.

To read the complete story in USA TODAY, click here.

October 30, 2013

Hallmark’s ‘Countdown to Christmas’ begins

Posted in Between Us column, Entertainment, Movies, Television at 7:52 pm by dinaheng

The holiday movie season on the Hallmark Channel starts this weekend with the premiere of “The Thanksgiving House,” a romantic comedy starring Emily Rose as a Boston lawyer who inherits a Plymouth house that may be on the site of the original Turkey Day feast on Saturday, Nov. 2 at 8 p.m. Eastern.

When attorney Mary Ross (Rose) tries to save her childhood memories by keeping the house, she battles local historian Everett Mather (Justin Bruening), who is trying to prove the house’s historical significance. Their battle turns the place into an unexpected tourist attraction, and when legal mediation is needed, attorney Parker Mather (Bruce Boxleitner) steps in to help.Dinah Eng

“LIndsay Wagner and I play Everett’s parents,” says Boxleitner, a veteran actor known for his roles on TV shows like “Scarecrow and Mrs. King” and “Babylon 5” and the “Tron” movie franchise. “It’s all about the conflict over the house, when romance blossoms between the two young leads. My job is to look like I know what I’m saying as the lawyer who represents Everett. I also carve a mean turkey.”

Boxleitner says the Thanksgiving-themed movie is a good reminder to be grateful for what we have in a busy world where we often take so much for granted.

“There are a lot of places in the world where people haven’t eaten in a while,” he says. “Thanksgiving should be the most important holiday in our iPhone/iPad culture, which is   supposed to make lives easier, and doesn’t. People are the most important part of life, and Thanksgiving is a time for everyone to get together with loved ones and be thankful.”

Photo from "The Thanksgiving House." Copyright 2013 Crown Media United States, LLC/Photographer: Alexx Henry

Photo from “The Thanksgiving House.” Copyright 2013 Crown Media United States, LLC/Photographer: Alexx Henry

The actor, who also stars in Hallmark’s hit series “Debbie Macomber’s Cedar Cove,” (Saturday nights at 8 p.m. Eastern), plays a patriarchal character named Bob Beldon, a recovered alcoholic who runs the town’s B&B with his wife Peggy (Barbara Niven). The network’s first original scripted series, based on the best-selling author’s books about the residents of the picturesque town of Cedar Cove, Wash., has topped the rankings for non-sports cable shows on Saturday night.

“You don’t have many shows like ‘Cedar Cove’ on TV now,” Boxleitner says. “Instead, we have serial killers, vampires and zombies. ‘Cedar Cove’ is a little town with a big heart, where we talk a lot about life with people who are relatable. It’s a place where people are trying second chances.”

Boxleitner is working on another second act as co-creator and producer of a sci-fi project called “Lantern City” that he describes as “Game of Thrones” and “Boardwalk Empire” steam punk (

“We’re going to the fans first to bring a built-in fan convention base to the buyers,” he explains. “I’m trying to bring on the next ‘Babylon 5.’ Sci-fi used to have a bright, optimistic future that stemmed from the Kennedy era. Now, it’s darker. Shows reflect the times we’re in, and we’re not in that bright, optimistic time anymore.”

He says that’s why Hallmark’s programming is so appealing, bringing a more hopeful view of the world to audiences.

This year, the network’s annual “Countdown to Christmas” will feature 12 new movies about Christmas, a Walden Family Theater Original Movie, and holiday programming including The 125th Tournament of Roses Parade and holiday movie favorites from the past.

Following “The Thanksgiving House” will be Hallmark Channel original movie premieres of “Pete’s Christmas” (a Walden Family Theater film, November 8), “Snow Bride” (November 9), “A Very Merry Mix-Up” (November 10), and more.

For a complete schedule of movies and specials in the network’s “Countdown to Christmas,” check out

September 17, 2013

Poignant family film explores civil rights movement

Posted in Between Us column, Books, Diversity, Entertainment, Movies, Television at 3:12 am by dinaheng

The civil rights movement may have occurred in the 1960s, but the importance of standing up for equality for all has not ended.

In “The Watsons Go To Birmingham” — a film based on the 1996 Newberry Award-winning novel by Christopher Paul Curtis — the poignant and powerful story of an African-American family’s summer in Birmingham, Ala. during the height of the civil rights movement is explored. The movie, which premieres on the Hallmark Channel on Friday, Sept. 20 at 8 p.m. Eastern, is the latest offering in a series of family-friendly films featured in the Walden Family Theater on Friday nights.Dinah Eng

Making history relevant to youngsters isn’t always easy, but those who watch this film are bound to identify with the closeness of the Watson family, and be moved by the their  efforts to deal with a society in which they are not fully accepted.

“Getting this film made took almost 10 years,” says Tonya Lee Lewis, the movie’s producer and screenwriter. “We were told that doing a period piece around civil rights with a predominantly black cast would be an uphill battle. Now, it’s the 50th year anniversary of the March on Washington and the Children’s March in Birmingham.

“On the one hand, there’s been an incredible amount of progress. My parents grew up in the segregated South. My children, who are 16 and 18, know where they are in the world. And yet, as much progress as we’ve made, other complications have arisen. It’s difficult to have honest conversations. A lot of people don’t understand the history of the country, and who we are as blacks, Latinos, Asians and whites.”

"The Watsons Go To Birmingham" Photo by Annette Brown, courtesy of Crown Media, Inc.

“The Watsons Go To Birmingham.” Photo by Annette Brown, courtesy of Crown Media, Inc.

Photo of Tonya Lee Lewis by Keith Major of Keith Major Photography.

Photo of Tonya Lee Lewis by Keith Major of Keith Major Photography.

“The Watsons Go To Birmingham” is told through the eyes of Kenny, a 10-year-old boy who’s the smart kid bullied at school (portrayed by Bryce Clyde Jenkins). His 13-year old brother Byron (Harrison Knight) is an “official juvenile delinquent,” and little sister Joetta (Skai Jackson) has a heart open to all. When Byron’s pulled one stunt too many, their parents (Wood Harris and Anika Noni Rose) decide to drive the family from their home in Flint, Mich. to visit Grandma Sands (LaTanya Richardson Jackson) in Birmingham.

The culture shock of being in the segregated South forces the Watson children to face what it feels like to be treated as second class citizens.

“I hope audiences come away from the film realizing that when teenagers are going through their changes, and challenging their parents,” Lewis says, “that parents can make a difference and encourage their children to be all they can be. I hope people recognize that just as those who marched 50 years ago in the Children’s March on Birmingham, young people today can make a difference in their world. For in the end, love will overcome evil.”

Celebrating the rewards of virtue is at the heart of movies produced by Walden Media, including films like “The Chronicles of Narnia” series, “Charlotte’s Web,” “Bridge to Terabithia,” and “Holes.”

Michael Flaherty, president and co-founder of Walden Media, says the idea for the  company came to him several years ago after designing educational software for IBM and working on education reform issues as a speechwriter for William Bulger, then-President of the Massachusetts Senate and Tom Reilly, former Massachusetts attorney general.

“I used to tutor kids on nights and weekends in Boston,” Flaherty says. “When I asked what they did last night, the icebreaker was always watching movies and television. I noticed that after the movie ‘Titanic,’ came out in 1997, the kids started reading books about that period of history.”

So Flaherty reached out to a college friend, Cary Granat, who was producing films like “Scream” and “Children of the Corn” as president of Miramax’s Dimension Films division. The two decided to produce movies that would entice children to learn, and co-founded Walden Media.

After searching for financial backing, and getting thumbs down at every turn, the two met with billionaire Philip Anschutz, who decided to back their venture, which also has a publishing imprint, Walden Pond Press, with HarperCollins.

Photo of Michael Flaherty by

Photo of Michael Flaherty courtesy of Walden Media, Inc.

“When Philip said he’d fund the company, he asked what movies we wanted to make,” Flaherty says, laughing. “My wife is a teacher, and she quickly read me her summer reading list, which included ‘Bridge to Terabithia,’ ‘Charlotte’s Web,’ and the other films we went on to make.”

Flaherty says unconventional thinking led to the filming of “The Watsons Go To Birmingham.”

“I had a great conversation with Bill Abbott (president of Crown Media Family Networks), and Hallmark became a partner,” he says. “We financed it with ARC Entertainment, P&G and Walmart. It took people coming together from different walks of life, working with the biggest retailer and biggest consumer products company in the world to get it made.”

Walden Media has developed school curriculum to accompany the film, and Flaherty hopes both will be used to teach about the civil rights period in schools.

“The Watsons Go To Birmingham” joins other Walden Family Theater features, including “Return to Nim’s Island,” “Space Warriors,” and “Dear Dumb Diary,” which have already aired on the Hallmark Channel. Coming this fall are “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium,” “Pete’s Christmas,” and “The Hunters.”

“We’ve decided to keep our eye on family-friendly movies,” Flaherty says. “We don’t worry about what others are doing. We’re big believers in emotional intelligence, asking the kinds of questions that make children think. ‘What would you do in this situation? What is truth? What is love?’ When you use movies this way, the process of learning can be highly enjoyable.”

For more information, check out and

June 24, 2013

It’s all a matter of ‘Perception’

Posted in Between Us column, Entertainment, Health, Television at 5:34 pm by dinaheng

How we see the world depends on our point of view. On TNT’s hit drama “Perception,” Dr. Daniel Pierce is a professor of neuroscience and a paranoid schizophrenic, who sees the world in ways that help the FBI solve crimes.

Pierce, played by Eric McCormack, has a brilliant mind, able to see patterns that most of us don’t. At the same time, he experiences hallucinations that cause him to behave in odd, irrational ways.Dinah Eng

“Initially, the challenge for me was to get it right, to portray the mental disorder with its symptoms correctly, and to get the neuroscience right,” says McCormack, perhaps best known for his roleas Will in NBC’s “Will and Grace.” “I also wanted to make the character someone you want to spend time with. Reading Elyn Sach’s book, ‘The Center Cannot Hold,’ really helped me achieve that.”

The show, which starts its second season at 10 p.m. Eastern on Tuesday, June 25 has been acclaimed for bringing the issue of schizophrenia to light, and putting a human face on a condition that is not easily understood.

Through the character of Pierce, viewers have met an intelligent, unpredictable crime solver who has an underlying vulnerability and warmth that all can relate to. Despite the professor’s fears and need to cling to his Sony walkman, inside, he wants the love and approval we all want.

Eric McCormack plays Dr. Daniel Pierce on TNT's "Perception." Photo courtesy of ABC Studios/Trae Patton.

Eric McCormack plays Dr. Daniel Pierce on TNT’s “Perception.” Photo courtesy of ABC Studios/Trae Patton.

“Mental illness is the great unknown,” McCormack says. “It’s one of the last taboos —  after race, the sexual revolution and sexual orientation — the one thing we’re afraid of. To the guy on the street, muttering to himself; in his mind, someone exists. He could be your father or your brother.

“When someone picks up a gun and kills several people, we say he’s crazy, like the act  couldn’t have been avoided. But it could have been, with more attention. We need more compassion for those who are mentally ill.”

The audience drawn to this show is an intelligent one, he notes, wanting mysteries that have an extra twist and turn. The hero, in this case, is not just a damaged man, but a complex, passionate person whose battles often mirror our own.

McCormack gives some clues to what’s in store for Pierce this season beyond solving more crimes with FBI Special Agent Kate Moretti (Rachel Leigh Cook), who’s also his  former student. At the end of last season, Pierce struggled with whether to take medication for his disorder, and discovered that his imaginary best friend Natalie Vincent (Kelly Rowan) was based on Dr. Caroline Newsome (also played by Rowan), a  woman he’d developed an infatuation with while in college who is now Pierce’s psychiatrist.

“Beyond solving a crime, Pierce is now navigating a love life with his disorder,” McCormack says. “A lot of people have responded to the Pierce/Moretti relationship, but it’s a risk with the teacher-student relationship. Now that he has Caroline, he’s facing that question of ‘What if you could have your fantasy girl? Which would you choose?’ “

Tune in to “Perception” on TNT to find out.

May 1, 2013

Scooby-Doo rocks in musical tour

Posted in Between Us column, Entertainment, Television at 6:07 am by dinaheng

His name makes youngsters scream, parents smile, and ghosts quiver. He’ll do anything for a snack — if his best buddy sidekick doesn’t eat it first — and now, he’s shaking his famous paws in the live stage performance of “Scooby-Doo Live! Musical Mysteries.”

The Great Dane that has captivated television audiences for decades and the rest of the  Mystery Inc. Gang stars in the musical’s first North American tour, with an upcoming appearance at The Dolby® Theatre in Hollywood on Sunday, May 12, in three back-to-back performances on Mother’s Day.Dinah Eng

The show, presented by Warner Bros. Consumer Products and Life Like Touring, is one of many stage productions developed by the touring company in Melbourne, Australia. In 2009, Life Like Touring — which has written, produced and managed live theater show tours pegged to brands like Sesame Street, BEN 10 and Dora the Explorer — was approached by Warner Bros. with a portfolio of brands it wanted to develop.

“We choose brands that have a positive message for kids, and Scooby-Doo is big around the world,” says Anton Berezin, producer and head of Life Like Touring. “My wife (Theresa Borg) wrote the music and the script, and we did the first three tours in 2011 and 2012 in Australia. Warner Bros. saw it as a fresh approach to the brand, and gave us a chance to do it internationally.”

The show’s humor was tweaked for American audiences, and content was rewritten to make the musical fun for parents, as well as children. In the interactive production, the Scooby-Doo gang investigates a ghostly mystery that is pegged to each local theater, giving performances a truly local feel.

“It’s a thrill to be playing at The Dolby® Theatre, where the Academy Awards take place,” Berezin says. ”There’ll be Hollywood references so the kids feel the drama’s playing out in the theater they’re in. In York, Pa., we reference Big Foot, where in Australia, we talk about koalas and kangaroos. We’ve creating a show with an original story, and a shared experience, without forgetting that the primary audience is the kids.”

The producer says the Scooby-Doo brand is so beloved because the values the characters promote are so positive.

“The characters are teenagers you’d trust your kids with,” Berezin says. “They’re role models. They solve issues having to do with overcoming fear, problem-solving, cooperation, teamwork, and helping people.”

Melissa Rapelje, who plays Daphne Blake in the show, says the most challenging aspect of her role is portraying an iconic character that audiences have watched on television since 1969.

Photo of Melissa Rapelje as Daphne in "Scooby-Doo Live! Musical Mysteries"  courtesy of Life Like Touring.

Photo of Melissa Rapelje as Daphne in “Scooby-Doo Live! Musical Mysteries” courtesy of Life Like Touring. 

“I watched the show in the ‘90s growing up, and my parents grew up watching it,” Rapelje says. “I actually wanted to be Daphne, with her purple dress and purple shoes.”

Happily, Rapelje got her wish, playing the redhead who’s usually in a bevel position…  you know, that pose perfected by beauty queens where one leg is straight, while the other is slightly bent with the foot pointing, and one hand is on the hip.

“The common misconception is that Daphne’s a party girl with no brains, but she always partakes in the mystery and helps to solve it,” Rapelje says. “She’s so fun-loving and cares so much about each member of the gang. In this show, she takes charge of setting us up as a band, and is all about love, friendship, and fashion.”

As for the rest of the gang, Rapelje says Velma (Michele Dumoulin) is the true brains of the operation, while Freddy (Noah Michael Fish) is always in charge and the leader of the group. Shaggy (Garrett Lewis) and Scooby (Cody Collier) are always used in Freddy’s traps as the bait, and are always the first ones to be in touch with the ghosts.

“It’s about people you wouldn’t think would get along, and they do because of a common goal,” she notes. “Plus, Scooby-Doo is the cutest dog in the world.”

Tickets to The Dolby® Theatre performances range from $25 to the $85 VIP Ticket Package, which offers a pre-show meet and greet, photo with Scooby-Doo, music, and goodie bag, and are available through (plus booking fees), by phone at 1-800-745-3000, and at The Dolby® Theatre Box Office (hours: Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.)

The North American tour runs through June 16. For more information, tour dates and cities, check out

November 18, 2012

Hallmark’s holiday movies always a joy

Posted in Between Us column, Movies, Television at 4:09 pm by dinaheng

Laughter, joy and love are at the heart of good holiday movies, and no network airs more original Christmas movies than the Hallmark Channel.

This year, Hallmark will air 12 new holiday films, along with five original specials, that are sure to please those looking for family-friendly entertainment and a positive message of hope.

“This is such a joyous time of year,” says Elizabeth Yost, vice president of original programming for Crown Media Family Networks. “Christmas is a season of hope, when miracles happen. It’s a time when we do things for others, and celebrate as a family. That’s what we try to give viewers in our movies.”

There’s something for everyone in the mix of movies, ranging from romantic comedies to dramas, and befitting the holidays, all come with guaranteed happy endings.

This Saturday, Nov. 24 at 8 p.m. Eastern, there’s “Naughty or Nice,” starring Hilarie Burton as Krissy Kringle, a holiday humbug fired from her job who happens to discover Santa’s “Naughty or Nice” book, left behind after visiting a child. When she realizes the magical book really works, she sets out to expose the bad deeds of everyone around her. What she learns about her long-time boyfriend Lance (played by Matt Dallas), however,  leads her discover to that the book also reveals the nice in people, a balance that makes all the difference.

The Christmas films, which began airing November 3 with “Christmas Song,” “Love at the Thanksgiving Day Parade,” “The Wishing Tree,” and more will repeat throughout the season.

“When you have 12 movies, it’s easy to mix different styles,” Yost explains. “We have comedies, romantic comedies, drama, warm weather settings and cold weather settings. The romantic comedies and romantic dramas are very successful for us. We try to offer themes that are different. Otherwise, there’s no surprise.”

While the movies center around Christmas movies, a cross-cultural romance is at the heart of “Hitched for the Holidays,” which airs Sunday, Nov. 25 at 8 p.m. Eastern. The film stars Joey Lawrence and Emily Hampshire as a young Italian man and a young Jewish woman who are under some family pressure to find a mate.

“They decide they’ll be each other’s mate for the season,” Yost says. “So they celebrate Christmas with his family, and Hanukkah with her family. It’s something many people will relate to, with some real laugh-out-loud moments.”

This year is the Hallmark Channel’s 10th season of airing original Christmas movies, and fans have no problem taking note of their favorites. In a recent Facebook poll, nearly one million fans named “The Christmas Card” as their favorite Hallmark Channel Original Holiday Movie of All-Time. The film, which aired in 2006, starred John Newton as Captain Cody Cullen, who gets a “Dear Soldier” card sent by a stranger named Faith Spelman (played by Alice Evans). Drawing strength from her note, he survives the war in Afghanistan and sets out to find her.

“ ‘The Christmas Card’ was about giving back to others, and was one of our most meaningful movies,” Yost says. “Audiences really resonated with it. My niece recently got married, and when her father-in-law learned that I work for the Hallmark Channel, he started talking about ‘The Christmas Card.’ The military theme resonated so much with him, he started crying.”

Yost says holiday celebrations are synonymous with the Hallmark brand, and the network aims to air movies at Christmastime that reflect the meaning of the holidays.

“The movies are about the wishes we make to Santa, and how they can come true,” Yost says. “They’re about learning that what you give, instead of what you get, is really what’s important. Audiences can tune in every week for a new one through the holidays.”

For listings of Hallmark Channel movies, check out

July 18, 2012

Film shares ‘How to Fall in Love’

Posted in Between Us column, Entertainment, Relationships, Television, Women at 11:00 pm by dinaheng

We may not all follow the rules of dating, but finding true love is the treasure we all long to find.

In “How to Fall in Love,” a Hallmark Channel Original Movie premiering Saturday, July 21 at 9 p.m. Eastern, a shy accountant named Harold (played by Eric Mabius) hires Annie (Brooke D’Orsay), a popular girl he knew in high school, to be his dating coach in order to woo a woman who’s caught his eye.

By a twist of fate, Annie is the high school crush who rejected Harold as a teenager, making her the perfect woman to lift his self-esteem. The successful businessman, in turn, encourages Annie to pursue her dream career as an event planner. In the process, the two discover they have more in common than just a shared passion for classic love songs.

“Everybody can relate to this story,” says Tim Johnson, executive producer of the film. “I think the vast number of romantic comedies are about characters in the most frustrating period of life, when all your friends have found their life partners, and you’re asking, ‘Where’s mine?’ At the same time, it’s the most exciting time of your life because you don’t know in which direction your life is going to go.”

Johnson says the character Harold is a closet photographer who chooses the respectable trade of accounting, and has not bloomed into his full potential.

“Harold is more cautious than most, and it’s that shyness that people relate to,” Johnson says. “What girl in high school, or later in life, is going to pick out the shy guy in the room, unless it’s Fate? As a society, we’re taught to choose the most charismatic person. But Annie gets to see how strong and sensitive Harold is. We’re all looking for that connection — the presence of empathy for one another — in a partner.”

While the target audience for the film is 25 to 54-year-old women, the producer says everyone likes good fairy tales, even men.

“I’m 47, and I still enjoy these movies,” Johnson says. “I didn’t get married until I was 39, and most of my friends were divorced. I met my wife at a laundromat, and finally figured things out. I don’t think there are soul mates. It’s okay to have preferences like wanting someone who’s athletic and fun, but beyond that, it’s developing empathy for one another that leads to love.”

Johnson, formerly the head of West Coast programming for the PAX Network, launched several successful series for PAX, including “Doc” and “Sue Thomas: F.B.Eye.”

“A young writer named Bart Fisher had sent me a script a couple of years ago for feedback, and when he sent me ‘How to Fall in Love,’ I thought it was a great concept,” Johnson says. “Hallmark decided to do it, and chose us to produce it.”

Fisher is currently manager for program development and scheduling at the Hallmark Channel.

Prior to the movie’s premiere, dating coaches Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider, authors of “The Rules” books will host a live one-hour Q&A on Saturday, July 21 at 8 p.m. Eastern on Hallmark Channel’s Facebook Fan Page (, answering questions on everything from how to get a man to propose to ideas on where to meet people. Signed copies of their book, “All The Rules,” will be given away.

“I hope that people are not only entertained by the movie, but that they learn something from it,” Johnson says. “If you’re looking for love, it’s important to be aware of the people around you, relationships you already have with other people, and the opportunities we all have to help others meet and establish a connection.

“The people we’re supposed to be with might not be the ones our brains or society tells us we should be with. Listen to your heart. That’s where the truth is found.”

For an evening of romance, laughter, and some wise tips on dating, don’t miss “How to Fall in Love.”

May 2, 2012

‘Ultimate Spider-Man’ joins Disney XD

Posted in Between Us column, Entertainment, Television at 10:32 pm by dinaheng

Super heroes are every child’s favorite role model. (Sorry, Mom and Dad.)

One of the most endearing — and enduring — super heroes is now flying high on Disney XD’s new animated series “Ultimate Spider-Man” from Marvel Animation.

In this series, 16-year-old Peter Parker (voiced by Drake Bell) is juggling the life of a teenager at Midtown High School with best friends, Mary-Jane Watson and Harry Osborn, who are clueless to his alter-ego identity of Spider-Man.

When Nick Fury (Chi McBride), head of S.H.I.E.L.D. (Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division) recruits him to join an elite group of four other teenage super heroes, Parker discovers how much he has to learn about discipline and honing his skills as an action hero.

“Usually, when we see Spider-Man, he’s a bit older,” says Joe Quesada, chief creative officer for Marvel. “This show chronicles his life as a teenager. He may have to deal with a chemistry test, as well as any test Nick Fury may give him. This is the first time we also see him in situations where he’s part of a team.”

The team, in this case, includes Nova (Sam Alexander), White Tiger (Ava Ayala), Power Man (Luke Cage) and Iron Fist (Danny Rand). Together, they battle to defeat evil villains in the Marvel Universe.

“It’s the kind of show that can be aimed at the family,” Quesada says. “Kids 6 to 8, in particular, will have a blast with it.”

Super heroes in the Marvel Universe were created in the early 1940s when the popularity of comic books was at its height. In the 1960s, Stan Lee modernized the idea of super heroes in collaboration with several artists, creating Spider-Man, the Hulk, the Fantastic Four and many other characters. (Stan Lee, by the way, plays Stan the Janitor on the show.)

“There’s always been an ebb and flow with the popularity of super heroes,” Quesada says. “Right now, comics are popular in all mediums. Hollywood’s looking at our source material as great fodder for movies. The Marvel movies are part of the Disney family. They appeal to a mainly male audience, and Disney was looking for a foothold in this boys-male arena. We have a long list of female super heroes, too.

He says that super heroes embody an ideal of the best in humanity, but the appeal of these characters lie in the fact that when they fail, they dust themselves off and try again.

“Spider-Man is not all powerful,” Quesada says. “He’s very human. Stan Lee looked at their alter-egos The person inside the costume is what’s most important. There are many lessons you can learn from Peter Parker and Spider-Man — never give up, even when things are dark; there are ways to solve problems, and with great power comes great responsibility.”

New episodes of “Ultimate Spider-Man” air Sundays at 11 a.m., ET/PT on Marvel Universe on Disney XD.

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