And Thou Shalt Honor Brings Caregiving to PBS-And Beyond

By Kleyman, Paul | Aging Today, September/October 2002 | Go to article overview
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And Thou Shalt Honor Brings Caregiving to PBS-And Beyond


Kleyman, Paul, Aging Today


Dale Bell's film and television productions have won an Academy Award, a Peabody, an Emmy and other kudos, but none of that glitter lightened his load when he found himself doing double-duty family care. For 10 years, he flew regularly from New York City to Houston to help his "alcoholic, cigarette-smoking mother," as he described her, until she died. Bell loved his abrasive mother deeply but understood that she had alienated his two siblings, who would not participate in her care. When unable to join her in Texas, he served as a long-distance caregiver, listening to her troubles and monitoring her private care to the degree that he was involved in every decision, including hiring and firing of caregivers and conferring on every doctor's visit. When his father fell ill in New York, Bell visited him nearly every night through his dad's final weeks of life, talking to and comforting him, and completing crossword puzzles with him.

Hollywood producer-director Harry bland, whose television honors include multiple Emmys, combined efforts with his brother in New York City to alternate caregiving trips to Miami for several years. Their father was declining from Alzheimer's disease. Although the two brothers were drawn together as never before by their commitment to caregiving, their mutual experience of anger, frustration-and hard-earned spiritual growth-made them question whether the United States could not develop what they called "a better way" to deal with the realities of caregiving.

The stories of these two television-- production veterans are not depicted in their two-hour PBS special about family caregiving, And Thou Shalt Honor: Caring for Our Aging Parents, Spouses and Friends, but their experiences were the seeds of the its creation. Their involvement in family caregiving led these two longtime friends to form Wiland-Bell Productions and spend the past three years producing the video and bringing the stories of many others to television screens nationwide.

The program, slated to air on PBS on Wed., Oct. 9, is being accompanied by a new book with the same title from Rodale Press's Prevention magazine, by two websites and by community outreach activities across the United States. Bell explained that And Thou Shalt Honor, hosted by actor Joe Mantegna and produced in association with Oregon Public Broadcasting, examines how today's longer life-spans often place disproportionate demands on those who step up to assume responsibility for their loved ones.

TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL

In early 1999, Bell said, Wiland spotted an article about caregiving in The New York Times, which prompted him to write a two-page documentary treatment on the subject. He sent it and the newspaper clipping to Bell, who expanded it to six pages. He circulated it to friends, and a copy found its way to an anonymous angel, who wrote a $25,000 check to get the project started. Bell recalled that the documentary project began in earnest that summer, just as his book, Woodstock-An Inside Guide to the Movie (Studio City, Calif.: Miese Publishing), about his experience as a producer of the Academy Award-winning 1970 feature was coming out.

Past success does not relieve a producer of intense fundraising chores for each new project, though. Bell, who now lives in Los Angeles, described "dialing for dollars" to yield " 16 yeses against 700 noes." He added, "In money-raising terms, those are good odds." The original target of a four-hour series would be scaled down to a two-hour program. Eventually, they raised $2.6 million, $ 1.5 of which covered the production of the television show, with the remainder funding outreach and promotion for the websites. Production began in April 2001, with shooting getting underway that summer.

Throughout the production, Wiland and Bell worked with a national advisory board of top professionals and leaders of caregiver groups. Gail Gibson Hunt, executive director of the National Alliance for Caregiving, headquartered in Bethesda, Md.

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