SALT LAKE CITY — Amid the coronavirus pandemic, BYUtv — like most TV networks throughout the world — has been forced to halt production on a number of shows. But the network’s special programming for this weekend’s 190th Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been in the can for a while.
“For months we have planned what we feel is maybe the most robust weekend of viewing around general conference that has ever been had,” Michael Dunn, BYUtv’s managing director, told the Deseret News. “It’s kind of exciting for us because a lot of people are at home now and watching who would’ve otherwise never had an opportunity to watch.”
On April 4 and 5, BYUtv will carry all five sessions of the general conference. But beyond that, the network has a range of movies and original TV shows lined up — content Dunn said families can enjoy watching together.
“As long as your family is 10 or smaller right now, you’re in an ideal spot to be able to watch this programming together,” Dunn said with a laugh. “But this is not mindless TV. So much planning and thought and yes, I would add prayer, has gone into the cultivation of this programming lineup.”
Here’s a rundown of what viewers can expect this weekend. All times are Mountain Daylight Time.
Saturday, April 4
Noon — ‘BYU China Spectacular’
Brigham Young University’s relationship with China began 40 years ago with a groundbreaking performing arts tour. In 1979 — not long after then-U.S. President Jimmy Carter’s formal diplomatic recognition of China — BYU’s Young Ambassadors and a few members of what is now known as Living Legends became some of the first Western performing arts groups to enter China, the Deseret News previously reported.
Since that first tour, the university’s performing arts groups have returned to China more than two dozen times, including a 40-year anniversary tour last May — BYU’s biggest tour to date that featured performances from Living Legends, Young Ambassadors, Vocal Point, the Cougarettes and more.
That 40-year anniversary tour can be seen for the first time on BYUtv Saturday afternoon following the opening session of general conference. In addition to the performances, the TV special will also include behind-the-scenes footage from the tour and how it was put together, Dunn said.
4 p.m. — ‘All-Round Champion’
This new competition reality series highlights 10 teenage athletes in North America who compete in sports like wakeboarding, gymnastics and skateboarding. The catch? On “All-Round Champion,” they compete in each other’s sports.
“It’s unlike any other reality show that you’ve seen,” Dunn said. “Where you think it would be cutthroat and ‘I’m going to win,’ instead you see these kids trying to help each other.”
The athletes are scored on skill, sportsmanship and improvement. At the end of the series, one athlete is crowned the All-Round Champion. The series, which premiered March 19, is hosted by former Olympian and world champion hurdler Perdita Felicien.
Guest mentors on the show include 12-time Olympic medalist Natalie Coughlin in swimming, Olympic gold medalist Laura Wilkinson in diving, Donny Robinson in BMX, Jessica Phoenix in equestrian jumping, Alicia Sacramone Quinn in gymnastics, Darin Shapiro in wakeboarding and Nick Troutman in whitewater kayaking.
A second episode of “All-Round Champion” will air Sunday at 7 p.m.
The series has already been renewed for a second season that will focus on winter sports, according to BYUtv.
5 p.m. — ‘Dwight in Shining Armor’
“Dwight in Shining Armor” returned for its third season on March 15. The adventure-comedy series delivers the “Sleeping Beauty” story with a few twists: What if the princess’ sleeping spell applied to the entire kingdom and the kiss woke up that kingdom — in 2018?
“The first idea, of a guy waking up a sleeping princess, that’s the fun romantic comedy feature,” creator LeeAnne Adams previously told the Deseret News. “But once we busted it loose and realized it could be more than just the princess — that there could be a whole world that was awakened with her — that’s when the idea became a series. That’s really when we decided we had a TV show on our hands.”
An episode of “Dwight in Shining Armor” will also air Sunday at 6:30 p.m.
5:30 p.m. — ‘Wizard of Paws’
“Wizard of Paws” is one BYUtv show that’s had to halt production due to the coronavirus pandemic, Dunn said. But the show, which officially premieres later this spring, has several episodes ready to go.
“The show’s even better than the title, that’s all I can say,” Dunn said with a laugh. “I have not seen one person yet we’ve shown this to who isn’t just in tears after they watch this.”
Saturday offers a sneak preview of “Wizard of Paws,” a show that follows Derrick Campana, a man who makes prosthetics for animals.
Campana has helped more than 25,000 animals walk again, and the show dives into the stories behind the animals and their families.
“It’s heartwarming, it’s inspiring, you laugh, you cry,” Dunn said. “It’s just such a different series. I think people are going to really, really want this.”
An episode of “Wizard of Paws” will also air Sunday at 1 p.m.
8 p.m. — ‘The Princess Bride’
“The Princess Bride” has been around for more than 30 years. And the movie continues to have a strong popularity in Utah.
”I was in Salt Lake City recently,” actor Chris Sarandon, who starred as Prince Humperdinck, told Variety in an interview three years ago. “I met the attorney general of Utah. He said, ‘Do you know that in every home in Utah, there is a video, a DVD and a Blu-ray of the ‘Princess Bride’? It’s the most popular movie in the state of Utah.’”
“The Princess Bride,” which Dunn said “just never ever gets old,” airs after the Saturday evening General Conference session, and again at 11:30 p.m.
9:35 p.m. — ‘The Other Side of Heaven’
It’s been almost two decades since “The Other Side of Heaven,” a Disney-produced film starring Anne Hathaway and Christopher Gorham, came out.
The film is about John Groberg’s experiences as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Tonga in the 1950s (BYUtv will air the sequel, which came out last year, on Sunday).
“It really is so sweeping in terms of its scope. I mean it’s a love story, it’s about interpersonal relationships, it’s about cultural differences and about miracles,” Dunn said. “It’s surprising to me how many younger people have not seen that show, so we’re really excited to bring that back Saturday.”
Sunday, April 5
Noon — ‘Grace Notes’
Following the Sunday morning session of general conference, BYUtv viewers will get a sneak peak of “Grace Notes” — a new series set to premiere April 26.
Hosted by Neon Trees drummer Elaine Bradley, “Grace Notes” delves into the stories of a number of faith-based musicians, including Lindsey Stirling, Alex Boye, Jenny Oaks Baker, Gentri, Paul Cardall, Ashley Hess, Lexi Walker, The Lower Lights and more.
“It’s not just their music, but it’s also talking about how their music informs and inspires their faith,” Dunn said. “They share their talents, they talk about their lives, where they get inspiration … and how the inspiration of the Savior really helps make them better musicians.”
12:30 p.m. — ‘Artful’
Like “Grace Notes,” “Artful” will also officially premiere April 26. The series showcases several Christian artists and how they share their faith through their creations. Special guests include Brian Kershisnik, Paige Anderson, Zachary Proctor, Beth Krensky, Fidalis Buehler and more.
4 p.m. and 10 p.m. — ‘The Other Side of Heaven 2: Fire of Faith’
“Fire of Faith” brings back much of the same cast from the first film — the notable exception being Hathaway, who director Mitch Davis didn’t attempt to sign due to budget constraints, according to the Deseret News.
The sequel continues to follow Groberg — again played by Gorham — who was called to serve as a mission president in Tonga while in his early 30s. This time, his wife, Jean — played by New Zealand actress Natalie Medlock — and their five young daughters join him on the mission.
“Making this movie was a war every day,” Davis previously told the Deseret News, adding that everything from cyclones to visa issues created obstacles. “I think in many ways our movie was defined by adversity. I just felt it was going to be really hard, and it was.”
The TV premiere of “Fire of Faith” is one of the programs Dunn is most looking forward to during conference weekend. The network’s managing director said BYUtv was a producing partner for the film.
“Don’t miss ‘The Other Side of Heaven 2,” he said. “Because if you saw the first one and you know the story of the Grobergs, you’ll just actually say to yourself, ‘Unbelievable. They would’ve had to run out of miracles and they just didn’t.’ If you want a real shot in the arm in terms of spirituality, I would say in addition to the five sessions of General Conference, watch this movie.”
“Fire of Faith” will air Sunday at 4 and 10 p.m.
8 p.m. — ‘Rudy’
“Rudy” is one of the most popular films in sports history — and the BYU Cougars were actually a part of it.
Brigham Young University’s 1992 game at Notre Dame marked the first match between the Cougars and the Fighting Irish. A small part of “Rudy” was filmed during that game, according to Deseret News columnist Brad Rock.
“Rudy” follows the true story of Rudy Ruettiger’s dream to play football for Notre Dame. The Deseret News review of the 1993 film called “Rudy” “an inspirational, upbeat parable about the tenacity of the human spirit.”