The problem with many faith-based Christian films and TV shows is that they aren't very good.

They tend to be cheaply made, with no-name casts, amateurish direction and heavy-handed scripts that push a polarizing agenda.

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And then there's a notable exception to the rule: Roma Downey, the Irish actress best known for the long-running drama series "Touched by an Angel," and her producer husband Mark Burnett, the man behind "Survivor," "The Apprentice" and "The Voice."

Downey and Burnett's LightWorkers Media production company, formed in 2009, has carved out a niche and become a heavy hitter in the entertainment business.

The team specializes in faith-based films and TV series that have mainstream appeal, such as "The Bible," the 2013 miniseries that set ratings records for History channel; "Son of God," a 2014 feature film; "A.D.: The Bible Continues," the 2015 NBC series; and "The Dovekeepers," the 2015 CBS miniseries.

Their latest is "Answered Prayers," a six-episode series that premieres at 9 p.m. Central Sunday on TLC.

The reality/documentary-style show, hosted by Downey, tells stories of people in peril and families in need who survived and thrived thanks to what they consider to be divine intervention.

How can Downey and Burnett get so many of their programs on mainstream TV networks while others are shut out? The key ingredient is production quality.

"Just because you have a message or a desire to bring faith programming to people, it's not a free pass to bring anything less than excellence," Downey says. "You still need to bring your A-game.

"Even with this show, which has smaller budget, we strived to make something that is well-presented and well-edited and delivers excitement and emotions. This is very important to us."

We chatted with Downey last week about "Answered Prayers" and her commitment to making message programming of this nature.

Q: What was the genesis of "Answered Prayers"? What made you think, "This is a great idea for a show, somebody needs to do it and that somebody needs to be me"?

A: That's exactly what I thought. There is nothing quite like it on television. We are bombarded with bad-news headlines everywhere we turn, one disaster after another. There is so much heartache in our world. I thought we needed to be reminded that good things, extraordinary things, happen.

These episodes, lined up week after week, show people who cry out for help and inexplicably help shows up. For people of faith, it will be a reminder of the power of prayer and how loving our God is.

And for people who come to it with a bit more cynicism, I think there's still a moment where they'll say, "Well, I see no logical explanation for it, but something extraordinary is happening."

Q: One of those stories in the first episode involves a boy whose leg is badly mangled in a lawnmower accident. Four years later, at age 7, he decides to have the leg amputated.

A: That's the Bainter family from Florida. Such a touching story. They got on their knees together as a family and asked for a sign: Should they have this surgery? Should they get this child a prosthetic leg? They were so unclear if it was the right decision.

Then, as they're driving the next day, on their way to a medical consultation, they spot an elderly gentleman on a bicycle with a prosthetic leg. They stop and ask him if the procedure made his life better. He tells them how he had been so limited and now, with his prosthetic, he was able to live an active life.

He encouraged the boy and assured his parents that they were making the right decision. Today the boy is a teenager and he's strong and living a full life. The family asked for a sign and, goodness gracious, did they ever get one!

Q: How do you find stories like this?

A: We scoured the country. We went out to churches across the States asking if anybody had answered prayers that they would trust us and allow us to share. Many families stepped forward, so many amazing stories. If TLC orders more seasons, we'll have a lot of material for many seasons to come.

Q: What compelled you to make this kind of television your life's work?

A: I look back to my days on "Touched by an Angel" and what a wonderful show that was to be part of. As a person of faith, it was a privilege to be able to bring a message of God's love to 20 million people every week.

To this day, I still meet folks who tell me how profoundly and positively it touched their lives.

Seven or eight years ago, we felt this calling in our hearts to bring the Bible to television. It began as a whisper in my heart, but became a mighty roar. When we started our production company, we called it LightWorkers Media because of the saying that it's better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.

There's a connective thread through all of our projects, whether it's "Answered Prayers," "The Bible" series, the movie "Son of God" or our up-and-coming epic feature film "Ben-Hur," which will be released in February. At its essence, each of these productions springs a heartbeat of faith and a light of hope.

I think people want to have this kind of programming. I think it's an audience that has been underserved.


9 p.m. Sunday, TLC