SALT LAKE CITY — CBS's new show "Living Biblically," which premiers Monday, Feb. 26, tells the story of Chip Curry (Jay R. Ferguson), who is going through something of a crisis after his best friend unexpectedly dies and he finds out his wife is pregnant with their first child. So, he decides to live his life according to the Bible — literally.
"Living Biblically" executive producer Patrick Walsh talked recently with the Deseret News about his strict Catholic upbringing, his Mormon friends and his desire to bring lightheartedness back into religious discussion. This interview has been edited for content and clarity.
Deseret News: What is your religious background that you brought to the creation of this show?
Patrick Walsh: I was raised a pretty strict Catholic in Missouri and I had a very wide variety of friends who were all very religious in very different ways. In Missouri, my school was probably 5-10 percent Mormon. A lot of my good friends were Mormon. My best friend growing up was a Jehovah's Witness. I think I just always had a great deal of curiosity and interest in (different religions). I also loved that when we all discussed our faiths, it was respectful. We would just learn about each other and what we believe. I personally think that's a great way to go about learning about religion is talking to people. It's a much better way, I think, than just reading about it because you get to see it in real life — these people, what they do, what they practice, what they worship, etc.
That background I think I brought to the show in a big way. My dad teaches theology in Missouri so those discussions were always just a very big part of our house. In addition to being raised religious, we also just really loved discussing religion and the various religions of the world. So in the show, (Chip's) advisers are Jewish and Catholic (a rabbi and a priest) for this first season. It's mostly those two points of view, but we've already had discussions about opening it up to a variety of faiths and teaching people through funny characters and fun situations. I think comedy can be a great tool in terms of making things less scary to people, things they don't understand about other cultures and religions.
DN: Do you think you'll bring on a Mormon character?
PW: I would love to. It hasn't been discussed; we'd have to get a season two. Other than Catholicism and the tradition of Judaism, I would probably know the most — I would feel the most comfortable — about Mormonism just because I had so many friends and still have so many Mormon friends.
DN: What inspired you to turn AJ Jacobs' "The Year of Living Biblically" into a sitcom?
PW: Johnny Galecki (Leonard on "The Big Bang Theory") had the rights to the book, and he wanted to make it a sitcom. I told him up front that I was skeptical. Usually comedy about religion is upsetting to people and it was a daunting task. I was concerned about it, but I read the book and I loved it. It was so affectionate and inquisitive about religion. I learned a lot from it and, in doing my research on the book, it was cool to see nonreligious and religious people loved it. I just felt like usually you don't see something that appeals to people of faith and people not of faith as well at the same time. Totally it was a big inspiration for the show. I just thought if we approached this respectfully, with curiosity and with open hearts and minds, I think people can really like this.
DN: So, your aim is to attract both religious and nonreligious people with this show?
PW: That is the hope, for sure. I think it is very welcoming to both sides, and I think both sides are wary about it just because of the nature of a comedy called "Living Biblically." I think with nonreligious people the concern is, "We think it's going to preach to us." And with religious people the concern is, "Are they going to mock my belief system, my lifestyle?" The answer in both cases is no. It is a story about a guy who follows the Bible. He has problems with it, he has great successes with it, but he basically learns each week that if you want to be a better person, it's actually a very good guide to use. I don't think that's something anyone could argue with. If you strip it down to the basics of "thou shalt not steal," "thou shalt not kill," don't covet, etc., it really is a guideline for how to be a better man.
DN: How did you go about making sure you hit the right tone with this show?
PW: It was very tricky. The book was a good guideline for a general tone and then beyond that, we had a writer's room made up of all different faiths and religious backgrounds. It was very important to me to bring in an actual priest and an actual rabbi. So, we had a priest and rabbi who were local to us in Los Angeles here, and they came in and talked to us about how they would advise people if they came to them with the dilemmas that Chip is having in the show. They also read every draft of the script and were able to say, "A priest wouldn't say this," things like that. We tried to keep it as accurate as possible so people weren't upset about us taking liberties with it. We didn't want to err on the side of offending people, for sure, but also not to be so scared of that that the show didn't live and breathe. We wanted it to be funny and entertaining as well.
DN: What is the intended message of the show?12 comments on this story
PW: My big takeaway that I hope people have is just that religion does not have to be such a serious, solemn topic. I think focusing on that can sometimes take the celebration and the joy out of it. My purpose for this show, from the jump, was to — in a world where everyone seems to be kind of covering their ears and yelling at each other, and are really divided politically and spiritually — it's a show about truly loving your neighbor, about opening your mind and heart and connecting with people. Each episode teaches a little moral message and has a lot of fun doing it. I think it helps bring these ancient teachings from the Bible into a more modern place. Through Chip, you see how these rules very much apply to modern-day life.
"Living Biblically" premieres Monday, Feb. 26, at 8:30 p.m. MST on CBS.