Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Kudos to ABC

It's rare for me to have anything good to say about the mainstream media, and even rarer for me to watch a "reality show," because "reality television" isn't.

But after seeing it promo'ed Saturday night, I determined that a reality show that was going to air Sunday night was going to be "Must-See TV." Because I knew it would have socially-redeeming value. I have only kudos for the show, ABC, and all who contributed to it for because it was heartwarming and inspiring to see and left me with a warm, fuzzy feeling.

This reality show is Extreme Makeover Home Edition's Louisiana grand finale, which was aired Sunday night and was about the makeovers of the Westwego home of the Usea family, and a New Orleans neighborhood church aptly named the Noah's Ark Baptist Church.

When the show was announced Feb. 14th, executive producer Denise Cramsey said,
"Even three years later, the gulf region is still suffering in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and I believe it is going to take the entire nation to re-build, which is why it makes sense that we would need an extreme coalition of builders from all across this country to pull together and help make a difference in New Orleans for deserving families on the show."

Teams from 12 different states including the Carolinas, Florida, Mississippi, Montana, Oklahoma, and Louisiana herself participated in the makeover.

"This show is about the barn raising of the 1900s. Where community comes together to change lives. Louisiana is that life, and this time the community is our nation. To make a real difference along the gulf coast will take the nation. We make that step by bringing builders together, some who lost their houses and business, and others we have met in our fifty state tour." Says Conrad Ricketts, executive producer for the show.

He added,

"To end our fifty state tour in Louisiana, talks to the nation about family, extended family,neighborhood, and community. And how we as a nation can join together to help rebuild, says Ricketts."

The Usea family's men were firefighters who heroicly rescued people during the flooding and served under harsh post-disaster conditions in the federal flood's aftermath. A couple had lost their home so they all had to live in a small, cramped house with their extended family. It's so crowded that Grandma Grace must share a bed with 5-year-old Abby.

Through the show one sees and hears hints of how emotionally strung out Louisianians have been since the flood and how their neighborhoods and communities have been torn apart. Grandma Grace often tears up as she describes her family's uncomfortable life, which causes them to get on each others' nerves, and Pastor Willie Walker shows how his church looks as if a bomb had hit it. He also tells how because his congregation has had to use a temporary church, his community has been turned upside down. He also tells of old people and others giving up and dying.

The Extreme Makeover Home Edition folks send all of the Useas and Pastor Walker and his family on well-deserved vacations at Disney World, where they periodicaily are able to see on TV the progress of the makeovers. The house and the church are completely demolished.

Both the home and church are built in a distinctive way which is both "green" and is designed to hold up better in a storm. Both are raised, and parts of each are round, which has the purpose of causing storm winds to blow around instead of directly impacting any particular side. And the house is built with openings in the crawl space so flood water can drain out instead of staying under the house.

During this time a banquet is held for the mainly-unsung heroes of Katrina, the flood and the aftermath--firefighters, Coast Guard members, educators, etc. to give them some well-deserved recognition. It was especially poignant to see a teacher tell how her students had been impacted by the flood--for example, she mentioned one student who'd thought his friends were dead, and another who asked if the school had any crayons--or if they were under water.

But then comes the big feel-good momemt--when the Useas see and explore their beautiful, spacious brand-new home and Pastor Willie and his staff see the new church. For not only do the Useas and Pastor Walker have a new home and church--they also have lovely all-new furniture and other trimmings--for example, the Noah's Ark Baptist Church has a pantry chock-full of food they can use to feed the poor. And Pastor Willie's church has a new van and the younger Usea brothers, Chad and Brad, each have shiny new trucks.

I'd like to conclude this part of the diary with, "And they all lived happily ever after," but while this was an upbeat, inspiring program, it also drove home the fact that many are still struggling to rebuild, and survive, in the Gulf Region nearly 2 years after Katrina, Rita, and the federal flood. One must think about what's going on as the cameras are off--and never forget what happened in that area of our country.

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Midwest lover of New Orleans and of all things having to do with Louisiana.