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Why CBS Pulled the Plug on Hallmark Movie Starring Two Oscar Winners

Apr 13, 2016  •  Post A Comment

So why, at the last minute, has CBS announced it’s pulling a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie, “Hear My Song,” that was scheduled to air this Saturday?

The movie is an inspiring story starring Dustin Hoffman, Kathy Bates, Eddie Izzard, Kevin McHale and Debra Winger. Both Hoffman and Bates have won Academy Awards.

According to IMDb, here’s a short synopsis of “Hear My Song”: “Stet, a troubled and angry 11-year-old orphan from a small Texas town, ends up at a Boy Choir school back East after the death of his single mom. Completely out of his element, he finds himself in a battle of wills with a demanding Choir Master who recognizes a unique talent in this young boy as he pushes him to discover his creative heart and soul in music.”

Thinking it odd that CBS didn’t give a reason for pulling the film, TVWeek contacted Hallmark.

It turns out the movie was pulled because of what it is not about.

We were given this statement by Hallmark Cards: “‘Hear My Song’ is a fictional story about a troubled but talented boy who overcomes great odds to find success. While the movie and actors were not intended to depict any particular individual, organization or institution, Hallmark was recently made aware of serious allegations of misconduct made many years ago at a school similar to the one depicted in the movie. After careful consideration, it was decided that the movie will not air on CBS, Hallmark Channel or Hallmark Movies & Mysteries.”

We went back to CBS after receiving the Hallmark statement and were told that the network declines to comment on Hallmark’s pulling of the film.

CBS had previously issued a brief statement yesterday, noting only that it was replacing the scheduled airing Saturday of “Hear My Song” with repeats of “NCIS: New Orleans” and “Criminal Minds,” as we reported Tuesday.

So what’s going on?

This Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation was actually an acquisition, by Hallmark, of a movie that came out in 2014 under another name. Its original title was “Boychoir,” and at least one concern about the movie was voiced at that time.

In November 2014, an article appeared on Salon.com under the headline “My husband was abused as a choir boy: Why doesn’t ‘Boychoir’ tell his story?” In that article, Shonna Milliken Humphrey writes about the impact of her husband’s experiences at New Jersey’s American Boychoir School when he was 11 to 13 years old.

Although the filmmakers avoided direct references to any real-life school, Humphrey writes that the New Jersey school “is the inspiration for the eponymous film,” and adds: “The American Boychoir School provided its students as actors, as well as musical direction and accompaniment for the movie.”

Humphrey also writes: “As late as the 1990s, the school also [allegedly] provided a well-documented spot where little boys were regularly and repeatedly sexually violated by teachers, administrators and other students. I’d wager the school is still addressing these allegations.”

Sexual abuse allegations against the school were the subject of a lawsuit back in 2002. On April 16, 2002, The New York Times published an article titled, “Years of Sex Abuse Described at Choir School in New Jersey.”

Here is how that long, investigative piece begins:

“In its 65 years, the American Boychoir School has created one of the nation’s best-known choirs, with its sweet-voiced students, all fifth-graders through eighth-graders, invited to sing for presidents and at least one pope.

“But in a series of interviews in the last two months, a dozen alumni from the 1960s to the 1980s described a pattern of sex abuse at the nonsectarian boarding school by two longtime choirmasters and by nine other staff members, from a headmaster to teachers’ aides to a cook, that they say has resonated through their lives.”

In her Salon.com article, Humphrey notes her husband’s response to hearing that a movie had been made about the school: “’They made a movie?’ he asked when he learned about ‘Boychoir.’ His voice got angrier. ‘What’s next? “Penn State, the musical”?’”

She also notes that the issue of sexual abuse is not raised in the movie.

Here’s a trailer that was posted more than a year ago for “Boychoir” …

21 Comments

  1. By the same token, TV channels should not air anything related to Vatican.

  2. It’s sad to me that the bitterness of this lady has hurt so many young men who thrive NOW at this school. I don’t diminish this man’s hurt. But what happened then has been dealt with and the school is moving on. My son was a troubled youth, hated school, was failing in grades, loved to sing. This school has picked him up and made him a sweet, considerate young man who sings with passion and beauty. The people at this school are honorable and passionate about teaching and have gone beyond the call of duty when working with my boy.
    It’s sad that this family can’t see that others are being helped. I’m sorry for their hurt. I’m sad that one person has made Hallmark pull this movie for something that happened years ago. Because today my son was helped because of this school. He loves every aspect of learning, traveling and singing. It’s an outstanding organization!

    • I couldn’t agree with you more, Beth.

    • The school needs to acknowledge the harm done — which it has never done — and be proactive about preventing further such harm. Anything less is unacceptable. It’s nice that some individuals have flourished. But to allow the glorification of the school — which has always denied the harm done and has NEVER done anything to help — is rather nauseating.

      And don’t try to diminish the problem by blaming the “one family” who have had a voice and managed to get the word out. Countless others have been silenced by the school : those who have dared to file suit in order to get some money to cover medical bills and therapies are not permitted to speak, as a condition of the settlements. Not to mention the ones who are too damaged, too scared, or too dead… Did you know how high suicide rates are among victims of child sex abuse? Thank god one victim had the good fortune to marry a writer! Don’t imagine for a minute, however, that just because they are the first to speak out publicly that they are somehow the only ones affected. It was a school-wide, institutional problem, for DECADES. And the school needs to make amends for the harm done. Instead of bask in the glory of a TV movie.

      If you really love the school you will urge them to shine a light into the dark place, to embrace, support, and lift up the HUNDREDS of unfortunate victims who suffered at the school, with the full knowledge and even participation of teachers, administrators, and board member.

      • “HUNDREDS of unfortunate victims”?? Just how large a student body do you think that the school has had in any given year??
        What, exactly, is your intimate relationship and knowledge of the goings-on at the American Boychoir School, because I am a mother who still sent her son to that boarding school regardless of the fact that the New York magazine article hit the newsstands the same day our son received his acceptance letter. Please do tell me how I sent my boy into the pedophile’s den. I dare you. Why did we return the acceptance letter with the required deposit? Because the wonderful, intelligent woman who was Dean of Admissions had sent her son to the school years earlier, and this was not an individual who have put her son, or mine, at risk. And do be careful, because if you think that I or any of the other parents would have allowed our sons to remain in a less than safe and enriching environment, then you are very sadly mistaken.
        During our admissions interview, my husband and I asked about the abuse allegations and both the President and Headmaster were extremely forthcoming and honest about the abuse scandal. At no time was an attempt made to minimize the damage that was done to those former students, and practices were put into place to ensure that nothing like this would happen again.
        The reality of the situation – which does not make it right – is that when you get lawyers and insurance companies involved in a lawsuit, clients are told to say nothing. An apology or any effort to make amends is considered to be an admission of guilt. Again, I am in no way condoning how the system works. As citizens who want our children to be protected from such predators, perhaps we should be asking our elected officials how it is that a statute of limitations is allowed to be placed on the actions of pedophiles? How is it that men like Donald Hanson have never been pursued by the FBI and brought to justice? Why is he not rotting in jail for the crimes he committed against these children? Instead, decades later, a school administration and student body that had nothing to do with the abuse has had to deal with the resulting lawsuits and the never-ending fall-out. Settlements have been publicized to be in the $850,000 range. What else would you have the school do, other than put a bounty on the perpetrator’s heads?
        My son thrived at the American Boychoir School, and had we found out about it sooner, we would have sent him there sooner. Every young man who graduated in my son’s class was accepted into the best private high schools in the country, and since many of them came from families of modest means, entered these schools on full scholarship.
        One last thing: information about the abuse scandal that happened thirty years ago is only a click away online. Do you really think that an actor of Dustin Hoffman’s caliber would in any way associate himself with a film about a school that regularly allows its students to be abused? Think about it…

        • “The reality of the situation – which does not make it right – is that when you get lawyers and insurance companies involved in a lawsuit, clients are told to say nothing. An apology or any effort to make amends is considered to be an admission of guilt. Again, I am in no way condoning how the system works. As citizens who want our children to be protected from such predators, perhaps we should be asking our elected officials how it is that a statute of limitations is allowed to be placed on the actions of pedophiles? How is it that men like Donald Hanson have never been pursued by the FBI and brought to justice? Why is he not rotting in jail for the crimes he committed against these children? ”

          That is an intelligent comment. Agree 100%. It is an injustice that the justice system itself gets in the way of actual justice, not to mention reconciliation.

          That said, I am not going to take Dustin Hoffman’s career decisions as evidence that the school has righted all wrongs! Much as I respect his acting.

          I stand by HUNDREDS of victims. Think about student body sizes, over the course of decades…! Of course not every child was a victim but my personal experience (yes, **personal** experience) is that even those who were not directly or repeatedly targeted still suffered. And still do. (google 1 in 6. Some good information there.)

          I am sure $850,000 seems like a lot of money to you — and of course that number is nothing but a rumor, those who know aren’t permitted to say, and we both know that — but what price tag do you put on a lifetime of SLEEP? A lifetime. Of ever sleeping without nightmares. What price tag do you put on a lifetime of healthy sexuality? How much would do you think EVER getting to have a healthy sexual experience is worth? How about healthy interpersonal relationships? How about decades of clinical depression? Post-traumatic stress disorder? What price? All of which is to say nothing except this: Don’t imagine that $850k figure is really all anyone could do.

          How about this: How about Hallmark or the filmmakers or CBS or all of the above simply have committed to donating a significant portion of any profits to whatever fund or institution or nonprofit that supports boys and men who were victims of sexual abuse? I would imagine an actor of Dustin Hoffman’s caliber would be delighted to so contribute.

          Precisely because you have such a high opinion with the school and have an ongoing positive relationship with the school, you are in a unique position to urge the school to redouble its efforts to protect its current students and support its alumni in whatever way it possibly can. I am not an attorney, but I am sure there are some very proactive approaches the school could take in the name of “outreach” without actually taking the legal-consequential step of admitting wrongdoing. It could, for example, set up some sort of health-care grant program for alumni, while still denying allegations, but basically winking at survivors and offering to actually HELP.

    • Really? Are the current students being hurt because a movie about their school is not being hurt? Boo hoo. The school should embrace the opportunity to come to terms with its past and give something of value to current students by teaching them everything they need to know to prevent sex abuse and support its victims. Gee, poor current students, no Hallmark movie for them! That really is almost as bad as years of sex abuse at the hands of teachers and administrators!

      It’s a shame the parents of current students are whining about this and complaining about “one woman’s bitterness” (YA THINK?!?!? Gee how do you think you would feel if your loved on HAD BEEN SODOMIZED AT SCHOOL???) — instead of using their position of influence at the school to make sure past harms are rectified and accounted for! YOU Are in a position to make things better for HUNDREDS of MEN WHO STILL SUFFER. And instead you are whining about the movie. Jeez.

      And are you seriously suggesting that a grown past victim of abuse just “get over it” when the perpetrator has never acknowledged wrong doing? When these men continue to suffer for YEARS AND DECADES? I dare you to do your research. Look up death rates among alumni. Guess how many former students have committed suicide — effectively LOSING THEIR LIVES. And you feel the need to speak out in SUPPORT of the school??? You should be the one PUSHING THE SCHOOL TO DO THE RIGHT THING.

  3. My son spent five years at the school, and it was a profound and amazing experience that altered his life, and played a large part in making him who he is today. Many organizations have serious blemishes in their histories, and yet have done everything they can to move past them. This school is one of them. I am eternally grateful for the opportunity to have sent my son there, even knowing its history, and in turn for the opportunities it provided for him.

  4. I have profound empathy for those students who were either physically or emotionally harmed at ABS. But the anger issues should be addressed, if these men are to heal. Trying to continually bring down an entire school, where hundreds of young boys flourished, is not the answer.

    • Perhaps the answer lies in the school acknowledging the horrors that happened there? And not patting itself on the back with a Hallmark movie about how great it is?

      Reducing a system-wide culture of SEX ABUSE to “anger issues” is profoundly insulting. The school should acknowledge the problem, make amends, and dedicate itself to making sure that the victims are supported and this NEVER HAPPENS AGAIN.

      Maybe folks wouldn’t be trying to “bring down an entire school” if the school didn’t completely shut out victims, refuse all allegations, and otherwise completely fail to reckon with the horrific abuse those now-angry men were forced to endure. How about setting up a fund to support the victims?

      I’m so glad someone is finally speaking out. I don’t know how they found the courage but I salute them. I can’t tell you how relieved I am that movie is not going to air.

      • It has been well publicized that settlements to victims were made in the $850,000 range. That’s per victim, and yes, I appreciate that you can never really put a price on that level of damage.
        You want to do something to stop child sexual abuse, Mr. O’Rourke? Then ask your elected representatives why there is a statute of limitations on crimes against children? Ask the NJ State Police and the FBI why they didn’t name the perpetrators on their “Most Wanted” lists? Why did not one police officer, state trooper or DA not make an attempt to bring these monsters to justice?
        And for the record: the school had NOTHING to do with the writing, production or direction of “Boychoir”. You have a beef about the subject matter, then contact Informant Films!

        • “You have a beef about the subject matter, then contact Informant Films!”

          I do, I have, and I am not the only one.

          None of these things are mutually exclusive. “You want to do something to stop child sexual abuse, Mr. O’Rourke? Then ask your elected representatives why there is a statute of limitations on crimes against children? Ask the NJ State Police and the FBI why they didn’t name the perpetrators on their “Most Wanted” lists? Why did not one police officer, state trooper or DA not make an attempt to bring these monsters to justice?”

          Agreed 1000000%.

  5. Okay while this work of FICTION portrays a school LIKE the one with the alleged abuse claims and the production received technical consulting from that school THIS FILM IS NOT ABOUT THE SCHOOL.

    Everything I read by people railings against the film sounds like they think the school made this film and are using it as propaganda. Why isn’t this husband’s story included in the film? BECAUSE THAT STORY HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THE FICTIONAL SCHOOL that is featured in this film.

    You want your story told on film (something I would very much like to see happen and would gladly support)? THEN GO MAKE IT. Yelling at these filmmakers for telling the story they wanted to tell and not yours is childish and asinine.

  6. As a mother of one of the film’s supporting actors, I feel I need to speak out. The school did not make this film. It was a piece of FICTION. It was a story and a beautiful one at that. The entire almost two months of filming was a wonderful experience. The boys from the school were impeccable young men with angelic voices, and their fearless leader and school personnel were devoted and dedicated to their well being. I was there and saw it with my own eyes.
    To make a connection to the film and past abuses is a very thin strand of connection. As others have said, the story was not about the horrors of the past. It wasn’t even about the present in reality. It was pretend, based on a non existent boy. There was no subversion or writing to glorify the school, sweep old wounds under the rug or erase the history. The movie was not the story of The American Boychoir. It was the story of Stet, a made up young man who needed help, a purpose, and a voice.
    It is too bad that the film could not stand alone as beautiful and glorious story telling, and it is a shame that litigious folks can win an argument with persuasive bullying of threats and words. Isn’t this using power in an inappropriate manner too?
    And, I am not in any way condoning any wrong doing and hurt boys were caused in the past. It just wasn’t any intention of the writers, directors actors or anyone involved to make or hide this fact.
    And yes, the boys who worked on the film are being punished. They are made to feel ashamed of their school that is NOT run the same way it may have been in the past.

  7. Based on this discussion, there should never be another movie made or shown about the Catholic Church since it has a long history of sexual abuse, and the solution of the church is promote those that allowed the abuse to Rome. Watch the closing credits of Spotlight. Then ask yourself what is going on outside of the U.S. where the press does not have as much freedom or resources to investigate.

  8. I know the film is about a fictional school and that The American Boychoir School (ABS) had little to do with the content and production… However, the movie IS roughly designed to be about ABS. I knew the School in the 90s, and there is quite a lot of actual ABS memorabilia in the background scenery. In fact, two scenes even have a poster of students in casuals – and Shonna’s husband is in that poster.

    What I haven’t heard anyone acknowledge is that the School HAS proactively addressed its past history in order to ensure the safety of the students. The staff were regularly and intensely trained to recognize suspicious behavior and to avoid behaviors that could be misinterpreted. One headmaster told prospective parents that ABS was an open-book because it knew its history, so ask anyone anything and go anywhere. He also told parents that he felt confident that their sons were as safe at ABS as any other boarding school – and perhaps more so – because they were passionate about safety.

    I wonder, however, why the School would participate in a story with such a script. A parent drops off his orphaned son and pays the School to take him? Wouldn’t happen. Knowing the boy is recently orphaned, the School doesn’t call the father’s home phone to give a progress update? Would not happen. An administrator leaves a student ALONE to be picked up by a no-show parent? Would NEVER happen.

    It is too bad that the film’s gorgeous music will not be broadcast, but no one should miss the story.

    • Again it’s fiction. ABS is often asked to provide music for several venues such as the Grammys the Oscars commercials.. This was an exciting opportunities for the boys that year to participate on a different level

  9. The movie is beautiful; the choir music is beautiful. The plot is fictional and excellent. It is a shame that a wide audience will not be able to see it. It is a shame because Hallmark has a gem in its hands.

  10. I’m not gonna watch anything on CBS until they apologize publicly for their cowardice. Two crimes have been committed here. One against the abused boys, and another one against all the rest of us. Two wrongs don’t make a right.

  11. I feel badly for this poor man who continues the need to remain a victim so his wife can gain notarity and profit for her upcoming book release. But they are victimizing the boys at the school as well. What did they do wrong? Nothing. All they did was sing and develop their talent. Now they are put in a position of being hated and feared and for doing nothing. They are currently the victims to the bullying of someone else. They have taken on the role of aggressor. Apparently unable to fight in a court of law for some reason they take it out on innocent children who were doing something they love… It is not a story about their school it’s just a back drop for a piece of fiction.

  12. Jax, I agree. It’s not an biography or true story. She’s lame.

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