By RODNEY HO/ email@example.com, originally filed Thursday, August 4, 2016
Ricky Schroder has an illustrious on-camera acting career spanning nearly 40 years, from his Golden-Globe -winning role on "The Champ" at age 9 to his run on the 1980s sitcom "Silver Spoons" to critically acclaimed roles on "Loneseome Dove," "NYPD Blue" and "24."
The 46-year-old father of four is currently in metro Atlanta shooting the sequel to NBC's successful 2015 TV film "Dolly Parton's Coat of Many Colors" called "Dolly Parton's Christmas Of Many Colors."
But he's also begun producing TV programs behind the scenes, mostly military-themed. In 2014, he felt a deep urge to experience life on the front lines. He had ties with the Army brass and convinced them to let him embed himself for nearly three months in Afghanistan. This led to Audience Network's six-part docuseries "The Fighting Series," culled from 700 hours of footage and available on DirecTV and AT&T U-Verse.
He returned from overseas appreciating America even more and wanting to do more embedding. But opportunities were not there. So he came up with another idea. Many soldiers wore helmet cams on missions. He reached out to some of his Army contacts and convinced them to send their hard drives from their helmet cams so he could cull out stories.
"A lot of soldiers had never looked at the footage themselves," he said at AT&T Mobility headquarters in Buckhead today before an hour presentation to AT&T employees. "They didn't want to relive it. They wanted me to have it."
The 400 hours of footage became his latest six-part series "My Fighting Season," which is airing on Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on Audience and is available on demand as well. (You can purchase a season pass here for $17.99 even if you don't get DirecTV or U-Verse.) The season finale is coming next Tuesday.
During his presentation to AT&T employees, he got teary-eyed reading a Facebook comment from a mom whose son died in combat, telling him how watching his program made her feel more connected to what her child experienced. He also mentioned a drill sergeant who told him he uses some of the show's footage to teach newbies ways to react when faced with gunfire and enemies who are hard to discern.
Schroder - who became fascinated as a child with war courtesy of an uncle who survived World War II - said he has learned up close how war is conducted in this day and age. "I got to see the discipline these soldiers have, the rules of engagement, the complexities of modern battle to find an enemy in a civilian population, the self control to perform their missions," he said.
He said he now better appreciates the "symphony of destruction" necessary to defeat an enemy.
And he hopes civilians who watch "My Fighting Season" have more empathy for veterans. "They don't want sympathy," he said. "They want to be understood. Now you can understand more of what they went through so you can have a dialogue and communicate with them."
Here's a Facebook Live video I did with Schroder:
Schroder said he liked the creative freedom Audience gave him. Each episode didn't have to be a specific length and he didn't have to bleep out some of the harsh language used during the heat of battle. (Coincidentally, Schroder's father and aunt both spent decades working at AT&T.)
The actor/producer hopes to turn some of the soldiers' stories into scripted fare, possibly in anthology form.
On a lighter note, Schroder loves working with Dolly Parton on her autobiographical films here in Atlanta. He said the second film isn't quite as dark as the first one (which involved a heart-breaking miscarriage) but involves bigger sequences. "I'm underground making coal," he said. "They'll be a blizzard."
He admits wearing heavy coats and scarves in the middle of an Atlanta summer pretending it's Christmas is no picnic. "They make it look like a winter wonderland," he said - even if he isn't feeling it. The make-up artists, he said, are constantly blotting the actors down as they pretend it's cold when in fact it's 90 degrees. (That's acting!)
Schroder plays Dolly's hard-working dad. "He's trying to provide for his family," he said. "He's devoted to his kids. Dolly said I remind her a lot of her dad."
Once the film is done, he plans to spend 10 days where it's actually cold: fishing in Alaska.
Here's the "Silver Spoons" opener, with one of the most treacly TV theme songs ever: