Jill Scott & Barry Watson on Lifetime’s ‘Heartfelt’ New Incarnation of ‘Highway to Heaven’


By Taylor Neumann

Viewers may remember the iconic 1980s television series Highway to Heaven, starring Michael Landon as Jonathan, an angel on Earth helping those in need. It ran for five seasons and more than 100 episodes from 1984-89 on NBC. The show touched a lot of lives when it aired, and now it’s returning as a series of Lifetime-produced event movies to hopefully bring back those feelings for those who watched the original and for a new generation. The first film in the series premieres Saturday, Nov. 6, on Lifetime.

This new iteration stars Grammy winner Jill Scott as Angela Stewart, an angel who comes down to visit Earth and assist those going through crisis in their lives. “She’s about color. She’s about listening, patience, kindness, being gentle in a world that, obviously — we’re all in this thing — can feel very hectic and fast-paced and sometimes, and very often, angry,” explained Scott. Angela takes on the role of a school counselor and reveals her true identity to Bruce Banks, played by Barry Watson, the junior high school principal.

Angela speaks throughout the film about her “boss,” a God figure that is never truly explained. Most of what she does, though, is part of her intuition, not necessarily cut-and-dried assignments.

“I don’t think she knows who she’s coming to help,” offered Scott. “I think she’s just being led, so she’s just walking, you know. She’s just walking. Doesn’t know necessarily where she’s headed, but when she gets there, I believe that she has an intuition about it. And from that point, she just follows the trail of need, and maybe even the hints of good.”

Scott also believes Lifetime is the perfect spot for this remake. “Everybody who watches Lifetime watches Lifetime for specific reasons. If you want something that is heartfelt, if you want to watch a film where there is some level of justice or completion [or] forgiveness — these are key components to what Lifetime offers. And there is no better place, I think, for Highway to Heaven.”

Of course, faith is a big part of the series, and of the original as well. Both Scott and Watson speak of the existence of faith in their lives, and how that translates to the screen. “My grandmother introduced prayer to me,” said Scott. “And that has been a portion of my life since as long as I can remember. Faith has been integral. There’s been moments where I definitely could not see as me, as Jill, I could not see what was going to happen, or how I was going to get past something that was difficult. And my grandmother would always tell me to have faith, that the Creator loves us and loves me and that I should just release, don’t worry. Where there is worry there is a lack of faith.”

Watson, who starred in another faith-based series, 7th Heaven, has his own thoughts. “For me, I was raised in a Catholic family, and I wouldn’t say faith was super important to me as a child. But as I’ve grown older, and also having children and having so many different friends of mine from all different walks of life and different religions, I think my whole idea of faith is just respecting everybody else’s god or boss. … I’m just so grateful to be a part of [this] and I hope that it really resonates with the audience, which I think it will. And being able to work with an angel like Jill, that was special.”

Landon’s presence is felt throughout the drama, which has the involvement of his estate. “Jill and I were even talking about how great Michael Landon was and how it’s an honor to take this show and hopefully make it — if he’s looking down on us as an angel, make it the way he’d want us to make it,” said Watson. “And maybe he was with us the whole time while we were doing it. I don’t know.”