Coming to TV: Good Teacher, ‘Bad Teacher’

By Mark Walsh — January 10, 2014 3 min read
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Two new TV shows spotlight the teaching profession from very different perspectives.

One is about a nurturing, resourceful instructor teaching a diverse classroom of students facing some unusual difficulties. The other is based on a movie about an urban school teacher who never learns her students’ names, nurses hangovers in the classroom, and schemes in various ways for personal and professional gain.

The former is a likable drama debuting this weekend on the Hallmark Channel.

If the latter sounds at all familiar, it describes the film version of “Bad Teacher,” the 2011 modest hit starring Cameron Diaz in the title role, which The Wall Street Journal described as “a lazy, cynical, oversexed, unprincipled, foul-mouthed, pot-puffing, booze-slugging, gold-digging slut who is not only dislikable but unfunny.”

CBS is developing a mid-season replacement series, also titled “Bad Teacher,” based on the movie. It comes from the same producers as the movie, Hilary Winston, Lee Eisenberg, and Greg Stupnitsky (the latter two of the U.S. version of “The Office.”) This is the mid-season, and there’s no indication from CBS about when the series, which will star Ari Graynor in the title role, may debut.

On its Web site, CBS barely even tries to pass off the show as having any socially redeeming qualities. The sitcom will be about “a hot, fearless, and unapologetic former trophy wife who masquerades as a teacher in order to find a new man after her wealthy husband leaves her penniless,” the network says.

The title character “may be the worst teacher ever, but she’s the only one qualified to impart much-needed life lessons to [students], while she keeps an eye out for husband #2,” the network adds.

Back when the TV show was announced, last May, the Christian Science Monitor got pretty worked up over just the idea of the series.

“The premise, which plays to every possible negative stereotype of educators and women, may make the grade with network executives, but it will set up middle- and high-school teachers for failure in the eyes of students who watch the show,” Lisa Suhay wrote in the Monitor.

I’ll wait until the TV show airs to draw my own conclusions.

Meanwhile, the “Good Teacher” show premieres this Saturday (9 p.m. Eastern time/8 p.m. Central) on the Hallmark Channel in the form of “When Calls the Heart.” The producers of this series go back more than a century, to around 1900, and go north of the border to the Canadian frontier for the story of Elizabeth Thatcher (Erin Krakow), a young teacher from a well-to-do family who shows up in a small coal-mining town to teach in its one-room school.

Actually, the schoolhouse is in the town saloon, which fortunately isn’t too crowded with drinkers during school hours. And there is a tragic beginning to the series, which is based on a book series on the Canadian West by Janette Oke. Many of the town’s men have been killed in a mining accident, leaving behind widows and children who face extra challenges.

A slightly soapy Hallmark Channel show is not something I would normally watch. In fact, the only Canadian TV import I watch on Saturday nights is the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.'s “Hockey Night in Canada.” But the first two episodes I screened were engrossing, with hints of corporate malfeasance in the mine accident, a handsome Canadian Mountie (Daniel Lissing) with romantic potential for the teacher, and, of course, a look at education in the frontier West.

Even though it’s Canada, and set a century ago, there are parallels to today’s U.S. education themes. Elizabeth provides some STEM education with a lesson on gravity. Students collaborate in a small groups, and every student has his or her own tablet--a slate tablet, that is. And the teacher faces the latest in accountability and evaluation--the mothers who hired her keep close tabs on Elizabeth’s progress with the students.

The last time one-room schoolhouses were featured in a TV series was probably in “Little House on the Prairie” in the 1970s and ‘80s. The executive producer of “When Calls the Heart” is Michael Landon Jr., the son of the late star and producer of the NBC series based on the Laura Ingalls Wilder books.

There are probably very different TV audiences for “When Calls the Heart” and “Bad Teacher,” whenever the latter finally reaches the small screen. Whether either one makes it into the pantheon of memorable TV shows featuring teachers such as those in “Our Miss Brooks,” “Room 222,” and “Boston Public” is an open question. It’s probably no surprise that one has to go to the Hallmark Channel to find a show that once might have found on network television.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Education and the Media blog.