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TV's Plucky 'Christy' Returns --and She's Getting Hitched

May 12, 2001|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Since the publication of Catherine Marshall's acclaimed novel "Christy" more than 30 years ago, and the near-cult following of a short-lived 1994-95 CBS series, fans have been wondering who the plucky heroine will marry: the sweet, young preacher David Grantland or the handsome but emotionally complex widower Dr. Neil MacNeil?

Christy finally makes her decision at the conclusion of a two-part movie, "Christy, Choices of the Heart," which can be seen Sunday and Monday on family-friendly Pax.

Only a handful of people--including the family of the late Marshall and executive producer Tom Blomquist--know the groom's identity. Even the stars of the movie, as well as the directors (separate directors were used for each installment) don't know, because different scenarios were shot.

The hush-hush secrecy surrounding the wedding, said Blomquist, "is not because all of America is waiting breathlessly, but the fans of this show have been waiting. They deserve to find out as it unfolds in the story."

Set in the poor Appalachian town of Cutter Gap in 1912, "Christy" follows the adventures of a young woman who leaves her comfortable life in Asheville, Tenn., to teach at a mission school in Cutter Gap.

Kellie Martin starred as Christy in the Emmy Award-winning TV series based on Marshall's novel. Tyne Daly played Alice Henderson, the strong-willed Quaker who ran the missionary school; Randall Batinkoff was Grantland and Stewart Finlay-McLennan was Dr. MacNeil. The new version of "Christy" managed to get some of the series' original actors to return, the most prominent being Finlay-McLennan, with Lauren Lee Smith taking over the role of Christy, Diane Ladd joining as Alice and James Waterston, son of actor Sam, as Grantland.

Though the series went off the air in 1995--"Christy" fell victim to a change in regime at CBS--the series has been in constant repeats, first on the Family Channel, then on Pax and currently, the Odyssey Channel.

The series has a devoted following, bolstered by a strong presence on the Internet. Fans of Finlay-McLennan, for example, operate the lavish http://www.sfmclennan.com. There's even one devoted to the relationship between Christy and MacNeil, http://www.neilandchristy.com

Pax resurrected "Christy" last year--first airing a two-hour movie in November, following now with "Choices of the Heart." If "Heart" does well in the ratings, there may be more "Christy" movies.

"Christy" has found a champion in Jeff Sagansky, who is president of Pax. As president of CBS, he put the original series on the air in 1994. "Jeff saw in the continuing fan interest that this story wasn't finished," said Blomquist of Sagansky's decision to bring the heroine back.

The devotion and determination of his fans are among the reasons Finlay-McLennan returned to "Christy."

"They really hounded Pax, who they found out had the rights," he said. "I did the part not only for myself--it was a testament to the amount of work [the fans] put in this thing. They were just out there trying to keep this thing alive."

Blomquist, who was a writer and supervising producer on the original series, thought it was imperative to have Christy marry. "I knew it was important to the fans," he said. "You can't have these two guys hanging on forever, and she looks kind of foolish after a while if she can't make up her mind."

However, Marshall's family, which has story approval, didn't want Christy to marry because it wasn't in the novel, said Blomquist. But then Marshall's daughter-in-law discovered among the writer's possessions the manuscript to her unfinished, unpublished sequel to "Christy." And it just so happened, Marshall intended to have Christy marry, he said.

The production filmed two breakup scenes, two wedding scenes and two reception scenes in order to keep everyone guessing on the outcome. "During the whole course of filming, who I thought it would be changed," said Smith. "It was super-strange. Literally we would do one shot with one actor and then they would bring on the other guy and we'd do the scene the exact same way. It was a little awkward."

Ladd says she has a "funny feeling it might be the doctor. But I kind of want the preacher to marry her."

And as for Finlay-McLennan?

"I think it's my character," he said. "Why not?"

*

* "Christy, Choices of the Heart" will be shown Sunday at 9 p.m. and Monday at 8 p.m. on Pax. The network does not rate its programming.

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