A half-century ago, CBS released a TV movie called “The Homecoming: A Christmas Story.” The wholesome, family-oriented film did so well it was turned into a series called “The Waltons” in 1972.
The drama, which turned Richard Thomas (John-Boy) into a major star, became a huge hit, lasting nine seasons and 221 episodes, spawning six more films through 1997 after its cancellation in 1981.
Now for the first time in nearly a quarter century, “The Waltons” are back in a redo of that 1971 film. Dubbed “The Waltons: Homecoming,” the CW will air the movie twice, the first time on Sunday at 8 p.m. ET and again on Dec. 11.
The plot is simple. Set in Depression-era rural Virginia in 1933, the Waltons are a struggling family of ma, pa and seven kids. The mill near their home shut down and John Walton (Ben Lawson) had to work 90 miles away at another mill to feed the family. The film focuses on his efforts to get home in time for Christmas ahead of a pending snowstorm.
The new version retains the sweetness and heart of the original series. Any arguments and conflicts are mild and resolved by film’s end. There is plenty of laughter, warmth and understanding spanning generations.
“We could never have predicted what was going to happen to this country as a result of the pandemic,” said Sam Haskell, the film’s executive producer who recently won an Emmy for his inspiring Netflix musical “Christmas on the Square” a year ago starring Dolly Parton. “I believe people looked inside themselves and rediscovered family. What I’m trying to do with the Waltons is not only bring back the parents and grandparents who know the show but have the kids come to the TV set and watch this movie as well.”
For Haskell, who was a teen when “The Waltons” debuted, the show has special resonance. “I remember Thursday nights, we’d hear the theme song and rush into the living room to watch. It was an amazing mainstay in my life and I’m incredibly honored Warner Brothers partnered with me to do something so wonderful. I’m just so grateful.”
This film is a departure for the current incarnation of the CW, which mostly gears itself to younger viewers with fare like “Riverdale” and “The Flash.”
Director Lev Spiro, better known for edgier shows like “Arrested Development” and “Weeds,” was drawn to the ideals of the script: “This gives me an opportunity to put something out I see as possessing humanistic values. We want to worm into viewers’ subconscious that maybe the world can be a better place if we treat each other with respect, empathy and tolerance.”
Haskell cast two of the bigger names in the cast because they were personal friends: “Scandal” star Bellamy Young (Olivia Walton) and Lawson (John Walton), who was part of Haskell’s Netflix show “Dolly Parton’s Heartstrings.” He saw Logan Shroyer on “This is Us” and nabbed him to play the key role of aspiring writer and eldest son John-Boy.