‘A Waltons Thanksgiving’ film is potential gateway to TV series revival

Credit: Chris Reel / The CW

Credit: Chris Reel / The CW

TV producer Sam Haskell was thrilled last year to be able to revive “The Waltons” for the first time in a quarter century with “The Waltons’ Homecoming” on the CW. It drew solid ratings.

He was hoping he could convince the network to turn the wholesome family series into a rebooted series. But the CW instead gave him the green light for a second movie, “A Waltons Thanksgiving,” which comes out Sunday at 8 p.m. and repeats on Thanksgiving night. Both films were shot in metro Atlanta, mostly at The Gaither Plantation in Covington and nearby environs.

If this particular film can bring in a strong enough viewership, Haskell believes the CW, which is under new ownership that is gearing the network to an older audience, might pick it up. If not, he might shop it elsewhere.

“In this day and time, we need something people can hang on to,” said Haskell, 67, who loved “The Waltons” as young adult and has produced a vast array of Dolly Parton projects. “We need something positive. There’s so much negativity in this world. This family is so beautiful and well put together. They understand each other.”

He said the first film was basically a reboot of the original 1971 film. The Thanksgiving sequel doesn’t follow an original “Waltons” storyline, providing the writers the freedom to create new plot where the Waltons meet a young abused orphan nicknamed Red at a harvest festival before Thanksgiving and adopt him as one of their own.

The movie is set in the early 1930s in rural Virginia and Haskell takes a few liberties in an ode to diversity and acceptance. Olivia (played by “Scandal” star Bellamy Young) has a Black best friend. And they are active in a church led by a Black couple played by famed recording duo Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr.

John Boy (played by Logan Shroyer) remains the starry-eyed writer who is now caught in a mini love triangle between two women. Each of his siblings also get their own distinctive storylines, some tied to a talent show.

Haskell had to change the actor for John Sr. Ben Lawson, who played the dad in the first film, was filming the “Firefly Lane” for Netflix and was unavailable for the shoot. So he replaced Lawson with Teddy Sears, who has shot in Atlanta before for Fox’s “24: Legacy.”

Sears had auditioned for the original film and wrote an impassioned letter at the time to the casting director why he felt he was the right person for the role. It didn’t work, but the producers didn’t forget him.

“I grew up on this show,” Sears said. “I learned a lot about how to treat people and I learned good lessons.”

And the family dynamics of the Waltons reminded him of his childhood.

“I’m from a big family with four kids,” he said. “We had a boisterous household and a small home. Holidays were filled with aunts, uncles and cousins. There is something comforting about all that.”

Like the first film, Haskell was able to nab original John Boy Richard Thomas to tape an intro.

Haskell said the CW has cleared a future Easter “Waltons” movie and Haskell hopes to give Thomas a role as a professor and producing credits.

“When Richard visits the set, everyone is in total awe,” Haskell said.

Credit: Chris Reel / The CW

Credit: Chris Reel / The CW

Credit: Chris Reel / The CW

Credit: Chris Reel / The CW

ON TV

“A Waltons Thanksgiving”

Sunday, Nov. 20 at 8 p.m. on the CW

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