The town sheriff and an FBI special agent stand in the living room of Maj. Slim Kilpatrick, describing to him the missing Soviet satellite that was retrieved from a lake in town, only to go missing again. The sheriff and the agent are trying to find someone in town with communist sympathies who might have stolen the satellite. Little do they know that, mere feet away, behind the basement door, sits the missing satellite they seek.
So begins the second season of BYUtv’s original series “Granite Flats.” Described by executive producer/director Scott Swofford as a “suspense, romance, adventure and mystery,” the series follows the residents of a small Colorado town in the midst of a communism scare in 1962. The eight-episode first season premiered last April, the first original dramatic program for the network.
"Granite Flats," along with “Studio C,” “American Ride” and a slate of new projects in 2014, connects with BYUtv's family-minded goal of high-quality entertainment alternatives.
Entertaining every member of the family was the driving force behind the creation of “Granite Flats,” according to Swofford.
“The adventure we set out on was to make family entertainment that’s sophisticated and interesting and not just for children," he said. "A great way to do that is to go back to a time in the 1960s when overt sexuality and onscreen violence and significantly intense language weren’t part of the culture.”
The subject matter, based on actual historical events of the Cold War such as espionage and secret military projects, may at first seem distant concepts for modern family entertainment. However, the series seeks to create genuine character drama and human interaction from the events of America’s past.
“If you take that 1962-1963 period, the country was going through a lot of tragedies and achievements,” says BYUtv managing director Derek Marquis. “And people resonate with that because they knew it was a period of real adventure. So rather than fictionalize it all, we started bumping into stories that were more interesting than what we could have invented.”
The true focus of the series is the characters, however, and the series is best summed up by actor Richard Gunn (who plays Sheriff John Sanders) when he says, “People have always been people. The only difference is the setting that people operate in. The cultural things are different, but overall it’s humanity that people come to see.”
Aside from the historical research, the writers and producers did painstaking detail work re-creating the era for the show, work that at times seemed impossible to Marquis.
“The things we thought were still around from our youth, they’re not really around that much anymore," he said. "The buildings have been torn down or renovated; the cars are either collectors items or they’re in junkyards. (To) find an old plastic lunch tray, or a tape recorder for the spies to use that is portable but isn’t a cassette player, those kinds of things are deftly handled by the art department, and even go beyond some other similar shows. Our head writer, John Plummer, stumbled onto real FBI, CIA and KGB interactions that were part of the Cold War history. Being faithful to those takes a lot of research.”
When we last saw Granite Flats in season one, big events were happening in the small town: a man was wrongfully imprisoned for the bombing of a military facility; three kids turned a science project and a search for a falling comet into a lasting friendship (and a junior detective agency); the local military hospital was conducting clandestine memory experiments on volunteer soldiers, and the sheriff and the FBI discovered a submerged Soviet satellite in a nearby lake, only to have it stolen while in transit.
Season two promises more adventure and intrigue, along with a few answers.
“Everything we left hanging in season one gets satisfactorily dealt with, and just at the moment you think you’re comfortable, everything else changes," Marquis said. "It’s enough to say that the world gets different in a hurry, and it will be a fun ride for everybody.”
Along with the new adventures, there will be some familiar faces. Christopher Lloyd (“Back to the Future,” “The Addams Family”) and Cary Elwes (“The Princess Bride,” “The X-Files”) join the cast for multiple episodes, along with “General Hospital” veteran Finola Hughes.
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“We wrote the material hopeful that they would do it for the money we were offering,” says Marquis of the roster of film and television talent joining the show. “We sent them the script and the response was great, and they are delightful to work with.”
The series returns for its eight-episode second season on Sunday, April 6, airing after the broadcast of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' general conference. Past episodes can be watched on BYUtv’s website or on its streaming channel, and the entire first season is airing as a marathon Friday, April 4.
Chris Vander Kaay is a screenwriter and author who lives in Central Florida with his wife and co-writer, Kathleen.