Patrick Walsh has been writing and producing on television for a decade now, with credits on Two Broke Girls, Crashing, and Outsourced. But when The Big Bang Theory’s Johnny Galecki approached him with a proposal to adapt A.J. Jacob’s The Year of Living Biblically into a faith-based comedy, it was at a moment when Walsh was tired of hearing the same old pitches. As a Catholic, he’d explored faith and Scripture, and as a television producer, he’d never seen the religious programming on network television that he thought the market deserved. Teamed with Galecki, he set out to see if Living Biblically could work on network television.
In Jacobs’ book, the author set out to see if he could faithfully follow the seven hundred rules he found while reading the Old and New Testaments as an assignment for publication. A cultural Jew, Jacobs sought out advice from experts on different aspects of the Bible, including a pastor at Thomas Road Baptist Church, Ken Ham, and Reverend Tony Campolo. Now, as Walsh worked on the product, he formed the narrative around Chip, a lapsed Catholic, who seeks to live the Bible out after the death of his close friend.
“Johnny Galecki brought me the book, and you wouldn’t believe it, but ninety percent of the pitches I hear are about people moving back in with their parents” Walsh remembered. “Or you’re sitting in the writing room and someone says, ‘I had a bad date three years ago, can we work that into an episode?’ It gets old! But I read the book in a night, and thought we could do it in a way that was funny and welcoming to everyone.”
Walsh and Galecki pitched their idea to the four networks, and were surprised that it was ‘bought’ by all four in the pitch room. Walsh knows that the TV and film industries don’t normally go for religious-themed fare, but his passionate pitch involved pointing out that there was space where religion was discussed that wasn’t Bill Maher or Left Behind.
While some of the changes to the book take it away from the journalistic approach Jacobs used, it’s still heartfelt and funny, with a respectful approach to the Bible that allows those who hold it to be God’s word and those who don’t to appreciate and learn from Chip’s experiences. “I grew up extremely religious,” Walsh shared. “The materials about our faith were almost always solemn, outside of Veggietales! I longed for a comedy to discuss some of these issues in the Bible from a modern perspective. It’s like people are scared of it, so I tried to go in with an open heart and an open mind.”
Walsh cited a study that eighty-four percent of people surveyed align themselves religiously, and yet they weren’t having entertainment that allowed them to discuss what they believed comfortably. While Chip is Catholic and seeks out a priest in the pilot of Living Biblically, he also finds himself learning from a Jewish rabbi. “I believed it was important not to do a one-track Catholic view,” Walsh said, “so we had two consultants, a priest and a rabbi, who came in for lunches. They were some of the best discussions I’ve ever been part of.”
Each week, the episode will cover a different passage or verse, and Walsh hopes that families or couples will watch and discuss. The first episode involves adultery - and a stoning - in a way audiences have never seen it before. It’s hilarious, but it also shows how Walsh wants to provide a deeper look into how we can apply Scripture to our lives today.
“It’s a realistic look in a modern society with co-workers and friends watching Chip’s effort to live Biblically,” Walsh said. “Not everyone is going to be cool with that. But little by little, his efforts and faith are going to work their way into his friends’ lives. Chip’s attempts to follow the Bible has an impact, and the other characters have to decide if they’ll follow it letter by letter like he does, or whether they’ll allow it to provide positive guidance to their lives. But it’s a no-brainer that every week, the moral of the story will be there for everyone to see.”
Living Biblically debuts on Monday, Feb. 26, 2018, at 9:30 ET/PT on CBS.