The Bible in prime time. What a miracle that would be. Well, those prayers have been answered in Living Biblically, the new multi-camera CBS sitcom inspired by the A.J. Jacobs memoir “The Year of Living Biblically”. The series follows Chip, a non-religious New York film critic who, after the loss of a close friend, feels the need for a soul cleanse. His inspired idea? Start living by the rules of the Bible – literally. Crosswalk had an opportunity to talk with Patrick Walsh, the executive producer and show-runner for Living Biblically, about what we can expect from this very unique addition to television landscape. It premieres on Monday, February 26 on CBS at 9:30 p.m. EST / 8:30 p.m. CST.
1. How did you come to this project, and pitch it to CBS?
PATRICK WALSH: I was bored with what I was seeing, sitcoms especially. The same plots, young people dating, or a guy moves back in with his parents, and I wanted to do something different. Johnny Galeki (Leonard on The Big Bang Theory) and his production company had purchased the rights to the book “The Year of Living Biblically”, and I was shocked that anyone would attempt to make a comedy about the Bible, about religion, for fear of it being so controversial. But I read the book, and the tone of it I really loved. It could be appreciated and discussed equally by the devout and those who had no faith at all.
When I pitched the show I made a huge point of saying that we would be approaching this material respectfully. We want to show Christians and religious people in a very positive light, but also not shy away from the fact that somebody living his life one-hundred percent by the Bible in a modern society is going to face resistance and problems. I really wanted to make a show that discusses religion in a way that brings people together. And CBS realized that you can’t continue to ignore such a majority of the country that aligns itself with faith and religion.
2. Since the show is inspired by A.J. Jacobs book and not a literal adaptation of it, talk about the structure you’ve created for the main character, Chip (played by Jay R. Ferguson, Mad Men), to explore his newfound faith.
PATRICK WALSH: The show exists in one of three planes at any given time. Chip’s home life is very much with his wife (who’s newly pregnant), and we explore what a massive change like this would do to a marriage. It was especially important to me to show a wife – who does not believe – supporting her husband, and recognizing the positive changes that this is having on him. At work, I wanted Chip to face skepticism, which I think is very realistic and relatable as well. Finally, and most importantly, is the priest and the rabbi, a.k.a. Chip’s “God Squad”. These are men who study the Bible and devote their life to religion, and they’re the ones telling Chip that it’s not going to be possible to live his life 100% by the rules of the Bible. But Chip is determined and they’re there to support him, so they discuss every aspect of it.
They serve the most important goal of the show: helping frame each week’s issue in both a Biblical context and a modern day context. David Krumholtz (the rabbi) and Ian Gomez (the priest) are such likable people, which helps enormously. Our real-life priest and rabbi consultants are fun guys, they love talking about this stuff, they make it fun and interesting, and that’s what Krumholtz and Gomez do on the show.
3. This is a half-hour sitcom so there’s an expectation that you’ll keep things light, and you do, but you’ve also chosen to embrace the Bible, a book that is deep and complex, and can be controversial. How did you learn to gauge and balance these two competing tones?
The first episode was funny and played great for the live audience, but it felt a little more surface because I think we were a little nervous to dig deeper into religion. But when we did – like the second episode about prayer – we really dug into that one. Does prayer work? Does it matter if prayer works? How do religious people view prayer? Do they view it as magic?
Or in another episode, we explored how people perceive misogyny in the Bible, and the audience loved it. They laughed at the jokes but were really interested in the topic. They enjoyed seeing these issues discussed, even if it is on a three-camera sitcom. To see that more controversial issues and more serious ideas could be dealt with and then appreciated by the audience made it a much richer and deeper show.
4. What’s the faith and religious make-up of your writing and creative team, and what kind of consultants do you have?
I was able to put together a room of writers ranging from the very devout to complete non-believers. Jewish writers, Catholic writers, Protestant writers. I was raised Catholic. We’ve run every draft of the scripts through an actual priest and a rabbi, and they give their feedback and notes. They’ve been a huge help. When they first came in and talked to us we had this long ongoing discussion about the Bible, varying points of view across the religious spectrum. And with each episode, we dig into Scripture and figure out which passages are the best to use for a given topic, or how to approach ancient practices in a modern context.
For example, the Bible says to stone adulterers, but you’re not going to do that today because that would mean jail. So what we try to do each week is show how the thoughts behind these rules in the Bible are ultimately for the good. It’s to better your life and the lives of those around you. You can get a lot of comedy out of how different things were during Biblical times, but at the same time it’s not simply “Isn’t this silly or unusual?” It’s taking a look at what the Bible is really trying to say.
5. We live in a very divided country, and religion has become one of our most polarizing topics. How does Living Biblically fit into where we’re at as a nation right now?
Religion and politics have sort of merged in our culture, and people seem angry all day every day. I wanted to make a show that brought religion back to a place of warmth and compassion and understanding and love, as opposed to divisiveness.
It’s not a “gotcha” show; we don’t flip it into an attack on religion. It’s a respectful, thoughtful look at how difficult it is – but also how rewarding it is – to live as a modern day man or woman by the Bible. It’s not about keeping a tally sheet with God about what He did or didn’t grant. It’s about keeping an open discussion with God. And, hopefully, it will encourage people to talk to others about their faith as well.
This Q&A was condensed from a longer conversation, conducted via a phone interview.