Friday, June 13, 2014

Adventures in Odyssey: A Short History

There are some TV shows and movies that have such influence and popularity that they become and institution.  When people think of a successful show, spanning multiple seasons and featuring engaging characters, several come to mind, including Seinfeld, I Love Lucy, M*A*S*H, and many others.  Same goes for movies, with institutions like Star Wars, The Godfather and Casablanca.  Each one is a legend in its own right.  While there have been some great Christian-focused and produced movie and TV shows (Ben-Hur is probably the most famous example), they have not had the influence that a secular one might have.  However, in recent years, Adventures in Odyssey is the only radio drama to have had such a wide-reaching influence.  The main radio series has over 740 episodes, but also 19 videos, over 50 books, including 3 official guides, several board games and computer games.  In addition, there is a real “Whit’s End” (the local kids’ hangout) at the Focus on the Family Headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colorado.   The show, about a small town named Odyssey where big things happen, is one of the most popular fictional series produced by Christians. 

In the beginning, there was just the Focus on the Family radio talk show, which featured Dr. James Dobson, sometimes with a guest, talking about various subjects related to the Christian faith.  In 1983, the very first radio drama was produced on the show, called Spare Tire, followed by another in 1985 called House Guest, and a third called Gone Fishing in 1986, all of which were produced for Focus on the Family’s adult audience.  The first real prototype came in 1987, with the appearance of Family Portraits, which featured Odyssey and its most famous character, the owner of Whit’s End, John Avery Whittaker (“Whit”).  It was an experiment to see if audiences would respond to drama as an alternative to the TV shows and cartoons of today.  It was also the first time episodes of the drama were written specifically for children ages 8-12, with alternating storylines focusing adults and kids.  The success of Family Portraits enabled the show about Odyssey (which went from Odyssey USA to Odyssey to Adventures in Odyssey in the early days) to launch officially on November 21st, 1987, with the episode, Whit’s Flop. 

The early episodes introduced the central characters Connie Kendall and Eugene Meltsner, employees of Whit’s End.  They also introduced many elements used throughout the years, including the Imagination Station (where kids could experience Bible and Historical stories as if they were real life), and KYDS radio, which enabled the show to have a variety-show format on occasion.  For seven years, the show continued with the same central characters. Then in 1994, Hal Smith, who played Whit died.  The show send him on an “archeological mission in the Middle East,” and from 1994 to 1996, the show was without its central character, though with replacement characters Jason Whittaker (his son) and Jack Allen (an old friend).  The major storyline in the early years was of Dr. Regis Blackgarrd, a nemesis who brought evil influences into Odyssey.  In 1996, Paul Herlinger took over the role of Whit and he moved back to Odyssey.  From 1996 to 2009 (longer than the original Hal Smith), Herlinger provided Whit’s voice, until his failing health motivated him to ask the show’s producers to find another voice.  A major storyline during this period is the Novacom Saga, about a company using unethical methods in Odyssey.  In September of 2009, Andre Stojka stepped in as the third voice of Whit, and has been the voice ever since.  Most recent developments include The Green Ring Conspiracy, a spin-off album only series called The Truth Chronicles, and a dramatization of the Passages Adventures in Odyssey book Darien’s Rise. 

So what is Adventures in Odyssey doing today?  In January of 2014, the Odyssey Adventure Club was launched.  This subscription-based online club gives will be releasing exclusive Adventures in Odyssey episodes along with every single radio show ever released (all 740+).  Considering that everything is moving online these days, this service uses part of the money to fund important missions around the world, some of which were featured in the most recent episodes.  Adventures in Odyssey has changed and grown over the years, and it still remains one of most popular radio dramas of the last twenty years.  

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