By JUDY SLOANE
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Michael Landon’s popular TV series “Highway to Heaven” ran from September 1984 to August 1989. Now Lifetime has updated the drama in a new format of two-hour event movies starring Jill Scott and Barry Watson.
Scott, a three-time Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter, and successful actress (“The First Wives Club”) stars as Angela Stewart, an angel sent by her ‘boss’ to help others in need. She applies for a temporary job as a guidance counselor at Daly Junior High School. The principal, Bruce Banks (Watson, “7th Heaven,” “What About Brian,”) hires her, and she is immediately drawn to a troubled student named Cody (Ben Daon, “The Astronauts.”)
Stacey K. Black directs the film, from an original screenplay by executive producer/writer Cathryn Humphris and playwright Angelica Cheri. Cindy Landon and Wayne Lepoff are executive producing on behalf of Landon’s estate.
Jill Scott and Barry Watson spoke with the TV Critics Association via Zoom about their updated version of the series. The movie premieres on Lifetime, Saturday, Nov. 6, at 8 p.m. EP/PT.
Q: Were you a fan of Michael Landon’s and did you watch the original series?
Jill Scott: My grandmother thought Michael Landon was fine. She thought (he) was a pretty man. Every time we watched “Little House on the Prairie” or “Highway to Heaven,” she would always say the same thing—”Just look at him.” We loved him in our house, and it was exciting and a privilege to have that script, “Highway to Heaven,” come across my desk. Honestly, I didn’t even read the script initially, I just said yes. And then I panicked, (so I) read the script, and was like, “I want to be a part of that.”
Barry Watson: I watched everything Michael Landon did. He always brought some faith or message into it; especially with “Little House on the Prairie” and “Highway to Heaven.”
Jill and I were talking about how great Michael Landon was and how it’s an honor to take this show and, hopefully, if he’s looking down on us as an angel, make it the way he’d want us to make it.
Q: Jill, was Angela sent to the school by her boss to help the student, or was it intuitive on her part?
Scott: Thus far, it’s primarily intuitive. I don’t think that she knows who she’s coming to help. I think she’s just being led. (She) doesn’t know necessarily where she’s headed, but when she gets there, I believe that she has an intuition about it. And from that point, she just follows the trail of need, and maybe even the hints of good.
Q: Faith is a huge part of many people’s lives, but it hardly ever shows up on TV. What role did faith play in your life as you were growing up?
Scott: My grandmother introduced prayer to me. And that has been a portion of my life since as long as I can remember. There have been moments where, as Jill, I definitely could not see what was going to happen or how I was going to get past something that was difficult. My grandmother would always tell me to have faith, that the creator loves us and loves me and that I should just release, (and not) worry. Where there is worry is a lack of faith. So faith has always been an integral part of my entire existence.
I don’t necessarily see faith on television unless it’s very specific. We call the creator my “Boss,” which I really appreciated because it doesn’t mean that this is specifically for any religion. It’s for everybody who is looking for light in the dark. (It’s) a reminder that faith still exists and that the creator, my boss, your boss, our boss is still very much present.
Watson: I am surprised that there’s so little of it on TV. I was raised in a Catholic family. I think my whole idea of faith is just respecting everybody else’s god or boss, what they believe in. I’m surprised that it took so long for something like this movie to come about. It seems like the world needs “Highway to Heaven” right now. And being able to work with an angel like Jill was special.
Q: What do your characters need from each other?
Watson: Bruce needs everything from Angela; he just doesn’t quite know it. Parts of Bruce’s past have stunted him. I don’t even think he realizes it until he comes into contact with Angela, and discovers he’s got some stuff that he hasn’t moved on from yet. He plays everything almost as a joke, and I think that’s his way of deflecting what his issues might be. Angela’s the one that really makes him realizes what’s stunted him all these years.
Scott: Everybody needs a friend. (She laughs.) Just those moments (when) they make you laugh or they maybe even hold your hand a little bit. It can help you. Barry’s character affirms things for her, I believe. If you’re doing something that you love to do, or something that you’re made to do, just having somebody make you laugh a little bit helps.
Q: Do you believe in angels?
Scott: Yup. I do. What I know is that people in my life, and strangers, have showed up that do kind things that have directed me in a different way than where I was headed. I’ve missed gunshots. I’ve missed fights. I’ve missed being robbed by seconds. I really believe that my grandmother has been a portion of that, and all of my ancestors guiding me. If that means angels to some people, then so be it, for me (it’s) angels and ancestors.
Watson: I do believe in angels. I believe that there are souls out there that watch over us. I think what’s got me through some of (the) toughest times of my life is having this universe of angels looking over me and hopefully guiding me in ways I don’t know.