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Elizabeth Smart Abduction Chronicled on A&E and Lifetime

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Elizabeth Smart and Alana Boden
A&E ‘I Am Elizabeth Smart’ film panel, TCA Summer Press Tour, Los Angeles, USA – 28 Jul 2017 (Photo by Buchan/Variety/REX/Shutterstock)

By: Valerie Milano

Beverly Hills, CA (The Hollywood Times) 11/1/17 – Marking the 15th anniversary of Elizabeth Smart’s harrowing childhood abduction, A&E and Lifetime will premiere a cross-network event that allows Smart to tell her own story in her own words.

A&E’s Biography special ELIZABETH SMART: AUTOBIOGRAPHY premieres in two 90-minute installments on Sunday, November 12th and Monday, November 13th at 9 p.m. ET/PT.  Lifetime’s Original Movie I AM ELIZABETH SMART starring  ELIZABETH SMART: AUTOBIOGRAPHY ELIZABETH SMART: AUTOBIOGRAPHY as Elizabeth Smart premieres on Saturday, November 18th at 8 p.m. ET/PT.

Actor Skeet Ulrich (L) and narrator/producer Elizabeth Smart of ‘I Am Elizabeth Smart’ speak onstage during the A+E Networks portion of the 2017 Summer Television Critics Association Press Tour at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on July 28, 2017 in Beverly Hills, California.
(July 27, 2017 – Source: Michael Kovac/Getty Images North America)

“With Lifetime as the leading movie brand in cable and A&E at the forefront of long form documentary storytelling, we have the unique opportunity to utilize the combined power of our portfolio to tell critical stories like this one and connect with a wider audience in original and powerful ways,” said Rob Sharenow, President of Programming, A+E Networks.

In A&E’s ELIZABETH SMART: AUTOBIOGRAPHY, Smart explains her story and provides previously untold details about her infamous abduction and nine-month nightmare in the grasps of her cruel captors.  Now 29 years old, she shares the perspective she gained through the ordeal and how she has moved past it to focus on marriage, motherhood, and advocating for others. Smart’s family members, eyewitnesses, and law enforcement officers involved with investigating the disappearance reveal new information about the case and reflect on her remarkable recovery and perseverance.

I AM ELIZABETH SMART chronicles the June 2002 abduction of 14-year-old Elizabeth Ann Smart (Alana Boden) from her home in Salt Lake City by religious fanatic Brian David Mitchell (Skeet Ulrich).  Mitchell brought her to a hilly encampment where, alongside his twisted accomplice Wanda Barzee (Deirdre Lovejoy), he held Elizabeth captive.

Over the course of these nine months, Smart was starved, drugged, raped, and subjected to bizarre religious rituals until she enabled her own rescue.  Elizabeth herself serves as a producer and on-screen narrator for I AM ELIZABETH SMART in order to explore how she survived and confronted the truths and misconceptions about her captivity.

ELIZABETH SMART: AUTOBIOGRAPHY is produced by Asylum Entertainment in association with Marwar Junction Productions.  Executive producers for Asylum Entertainment are Steve Michaels and Jonathan Koch along with David Michaels and executive producers for Marwar Junction are Allison Berkley and Joseph Freed.  Executive producers for A&E are Elaine Frontain Bryant, Amy Savitsky, and Brad Abramson.

I AM ELIZABETH SMART is executive produced by Steve Michaels, Jonathan Koch, and Joan Harrison of Asylum Entertainment and Allison Berkley and Joseph Freed of Marwar Junction Productions.  Tom Patricia and Barbara Lieberman also executive produce the movie with Elizabeth Smart serving as producer.  Sarah Walker directs from a teleplay by Tory Walker.

A+E Networks holds worldwide distribution rights for both Elizabeth Smart productions.  For more information, please visit aetv.com.

This ambitious Elizabeth Smart programming was discussed at the A&E/Lifetime TCA Press Tour held on Friday, July 28th, 2017 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.  Tanya Lopez, Senior Vice President of Original Movies for Lifetime, said, “Lifetime is the Tiffany brand of original movies in cable, and A&E is the leader in documentary storytelling.  This one two punch gives us the unique opportunity to tell critical stories across our portfolio” before introducing executive producers Joseph Freed and Allison Berkley along with actors Deirdre Lovejoy, Skeet Ulrich, Alana Boden, and Elizabeth Smart herself!

Elizabeth Smart was asked how the religious aspect of this ordeal had intensified its impact upon her.  She replied that she had grown up in a “wonderful” and “secure” (if conservative) Christian home for 14 years and was able to realize that the things being done to her in the name of God by her captors weren’t good since people are known by their actions.

“So clearly they weren’t people of God,” she said.  This perception allowed her to maintain a kind of separation from the sexual abuse.

Smart advised others undergoing traumas of this kind to trust themselves, find their hope, and hold on to it–then do everything possible to survive and believe that better times can come.  “You can be happy again, and you can move forward in your life, and you can have a normal life.  It will be different, but you can have it again,” she claimed.

Joseph Freed said that the producers had decided to do a hybrid drama-documentary rather than one or the other because Elizabeth Smart now traveled the country and the world to share her story with other survivors.  They knew she was the best person to tell her own story in her own voice and wanted that to be part of the project.

“And also, as we got to know Elizabeth, we learned that, while her story has been in the media for so many years, she really felt it had never been told properly for 15 years.  And this was an opportunity not only to tell her story, but to put her front and center and let her have a quite literal voice,” Freed concluded.

Smart found it “surreal” to walk on sets with co-stars Alana Boden and Skeet Ulrich that re-created her nine-month nightmare.  Ulrich’s “lovely” and “nice” manner made the experience all the more unsettling.  “You look like the devil.  You look like the worst human being I know.  But I know you’re not him!” she would think to herself during his scenes.

“I’m not apprehensive about what the audience will take away from this,” Smart insisted.  She is very proud of the Lifetime show, but hates it at the same time!

“There is no set formula for happiness,” Smart said when questioned about her recovery.  “I think it’s different for everyone, and I think you have to find what works for you. . . .Take your time.  Give yourself a break.”

When Smart got home after her rescue, she immediately wanted to pick up her life from where it left off at school with her friends.  This was not so easy as she was approached in public all the time by concerned strangers.

The attention could be quite overwhelming for this once shy and private person.  “So finding that new balance, that new normal, that was probably my biggest struggle coming home,” concluded Smart.

Smart claims that she never wanted to write a book or make a show, that she wanted for the whole tragedy just to disappear.  Yet her insightful understanding of her own situation has led to advocacy over time.

“As I got older. . .I realized that I had a unique opportunity to share my story because there are so many other survivors out there who struggle every day because they feel like they are alone,” said Smart.  “They feel like nobody possibly understands what they are going through.  Nobody else understands how they feel.”

Smart said, “This is going to sound crazy, but I feel lucky because it was a stranger who abducted and hurt me, whereas the majority of abuse that takes place now, the majority of kidnappings and sexual violence today comes from the family or someone that you know.  It comes from that circle of trust.”

“Nobody deserves to be hurt!” Smart exclaimed.  “And so I have felt as I’ve gone on more and more into this world that I feel like I do need to share my story for that very reason.”

Skeet Ulrich had a delicate tightrope to walk playing a real-life monster on a show being co-produced by his victim.  It took this self-described Southern gentleman a couple of weeks to make the decision to play the part of Brian David Mitchell, which he went on to do very well despite wanting to bawl at times over some of Smart’s revelations on set.

“He was a very complicated guy to figure out,” said Ulrich of Mitchell, who was later analyzed extensively by psychiatrists to see if he was competent to stand trial.  Ulrich started to lose sleep and have nightmares while making the show just like Smart.

Alana Boden appreciated having Smart on set to help coach her performance.  Smart, in turn, was gratified that the actors always took their roles seriously and came prepared to be accurate.

The producers had to work to win Elizabeth Smart’s trust during the course of making these two programs.  Smart now has a husband and two small children and she and Allison Berkley were able to bond over their pregnancies at the time of meeting.

Now that Smart’s whole story is out there in the form of books, films, and speeches, can she hope to find some sense of closure?  “For me, closure happened the day that I was rescued!” said Smart.  More loose ends were tied up when her abductors were sentenced, and two years of talking certainly helped the healing process.

Smart works with AMBER Alert to try and rescue the half million or more children who disappear every year.  “I know that we can hopefully not only rescue and bring children back but hopefully prevent more crimes of this nature from happening.  Thank you!” she said to a round of applause from the audience.

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