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'Living Biblically' Producer Wants to Honor Faith, Not Hate on It

Living Biblically on CBS
TV Series Info
 

AIRS:

Mondays at 9:30 pm ET

NETWORK:

CBS

CAST:

Jay R. Ferguson, Ian Gomez, Lindsey Kraft, David Krumholtz, Camryn Manheim, Tony Rock

SHOW INFO:

Find out more about Living Biblically on CBS.com

Hannah Goodwyn - Senior Producer

A network sitcom about a lapsed Catholic, who decides to follow the Bible literally in an attempt to get his life right… how's that going to play out?

If you've seen clips for CBS' new sitcom, Living Biblically, and you're skeptical, you're likely not alone. (I know I was curious.)

I decided to dig deeper and get some insider info, so I went to the source -- Executive Producer/Creator Patrick Walsh. A writer from 2 Broke Girls and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Walsh has been working with Johnny Galecki (aka Leonard from The Big Bang Theory) to bring this new 'Bible' show to primetime.

On a recent phone call, Walsh (who grew up in the faith), walked me through making the show (which airs on Monday nights at 9:30 ET on CBS), his earnest hopes for it, and how the experience has personally affected him. Here are excerpts from that conversation:

Hannah Goodwyn: At what point in the show's development did you became part of the creative team behind Living Biblically?

Patrick Walsh: Well, Johnny Galecki and his company have the rights to the book, The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs, and they were looking for a writer for it. I had just been going around town and hearing so many pitches that were essentially a guy moves back in with his parents, six young people are dating in New York, whatever it may be. I was bored by it. And I read this book in one night. I went in and met with them. I liked them. I was fascinated by the book.

With something like this, it's important to get the correct writer. And I have a long history with religion. I spoke very passionately about it and how I felt the religious community was underserved really, especially in terms of comedy. We all just got very excited. We hit it off and from there were started talking about the story.

Goodwyn: What fascinated you most about A.J. Jacobs' book?

Walsh: What still fascinates me about it is how impactful the book is and how successful it has been…. It's certainly not making fun, but there's a tone to it that is certainly more questioning than I think most people like in their books about faith, to be honest. And I really wanted to sort of capture that, but also treat the subject as respectfully as possible. Do my research. We have a priest and rabbi on call who would often come in and talk with us about these issues.

I just really wanted to make a show that connected with religious people. I've been saying this a lot, but I feel that on television it's either Bill Maher, who is obviously a very vocal critic of religion, or very solemn, serious programming. Usually faith-based stuff is Left Behind and things like that where it's very serious. And I think it is a serious subject; I know it is a serious subject. Yet, everyone I know, everyone I grew up with, everyone I was in religious groups with in high school, etc., has a sense of humor about it. I think that's what people responded to about the book; and I hope that's what they respond to about the show. I think you can discuss this stuff without upsetting people; and I think it can also be amusing without being offensive.

Goodwyn: Have TV viewers seen anything like this before?

Walsh: I don't think this has been on television before, certainly not a network sitcom. Chip is our Christian that we're focusing on [in Living Biblically]. He deals with dissenting opinions. He deals with skeptical people. He deals with people who make fun of him for what he's doing, but I don't know any Christians who don't. I think it's a realistic portrayal of it. And throughout, he stays 100 percent committed to his journey. He's not questioning it, because in each episode he grows stronger and stronger in his faith, because it's making really positive changes in his life.

Christianity is very respected in this, because you see each week the positive effect it has on his life and the lives of others. It sort of starts to bleed into the lives of his friends and coworkers as well.

Goodwyn: Has there been one scene or storyline that really stands out for you?

Walsh: We do an episode about prayer. I think it's one people relate to a lot where Chip is feeling uncomfortable as an adult returning to prayer. He doesn't know how to do it. Is he doing it right? Should he be kneeling? Should he be standing? Should it be out loud? Should it be quiet? And ultimately his guys [the rabbi and priest], 'the God squad', are telling him it doesn't matter how you do it as long as you do it, and you'll know it when you feel it, and you're over-thinking it and just relax and have a conversation with God.

It's a 20-minute show on CBS, but it really covers some very, very deep and intense subjects. His wife is skeptical that prayer works. Then through her mother having an illness, she wants to use it in her life. That to me is probably the most interesting one and the one that will generate the most conversation, because prayer is such a big part of Christianity, and you never see people struggling with that on television. So that is my favorite personally; and I think that's the deepest episode probably.

Goodwyn: You guys pitched this 'Bible' show to all four networks before going with CBS. And I read somewhere that each of the networks wanted it. What made them want to get on board with this series so much, do you think?

Walsh: People were just really surprised by it, because comedy and religion traditionally do not go hand in hand. But my pitch was just, I am treating this with a great deal of respect. I want to do something that maybe pastors would include in their homilies, you know, something that could spark discussions amongst families, amongst couples, amongst high school classes, whatever it may be, and to get people talking about religion in a way that is open, and funny, and interesting and relevant to a modern society.

We definitely did not think this would be an across the board 'yes' because of the subject matter, but what I hope sold it was mine and Johnny's just passion to tell the story in the most honest and truthful but also extremely respectful and kind way we could. That's been the goal and it's a very tricky tone to walk every week. But we're doing our best, and I'm really proud of what we did. I think the networks liked it because I think people are really starved for a show like this that treats Christianity with respect and that opens up discussions.

Goodwyn: Speaking of discussion, what's your writers room like?

Walsh: I had the best time I've ever had in a writer's room. I've been writing on sitcoms for years and years. It gets very repetitive. I have never been in a writer's room like this where we were really passionately discussing all sides of religion every day. It made it a real thrill to come to work because we had such great conversations. And it was important for me to have a very diverse staff, all kinds of religious backgrounds. Then also to make periodic calls and then have several lunches with an actual priest and a rabbi who came in and talked to us.

Everyone has their own personal history on religion. And you're taught, really, especially as an employer to never ask people about religion. So, it was a real thrill to open these floodgates and hear everybody's stories, childhoods, upbringing, issues with religion, things they love about religion, ways religion has positively impacted their lives. And I hope we got all of that on screen.

Goodwyn: For you, as a producer/writer, how does Living Biblically rank among the other projects you've done?

Walsh: Oh, I mean, it's a million percent more than the other shows I've done. This has affected my life and just made me think in a really great way. Every writing job I've had, the second you walk out the door, you shut your brain off and go home. I was thinking about this stuff every night, talking to my fiancé about it every night, talking to friends, family. My dad and I discussed my confirmation at lengths, which we hadn't done ever, even when I was confirmed we didn't discuss it at length.

So, I hope that the effect it's had on me is the effect it will have on viewers, because I can honestly say it changed my life as well. It caused me to look at every aspect of my life with deeper meaning and with new eyes.

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