Why Demanding Families Look Forward to Doc's Weekly House Calls on PAX TV Interview

by Steven Isaac

Clint Cassidy (played by Billy Ray Cyrus)

Clint Cassidy (played by Billy Ray Cyrus) is a cowboy without his spurs. A rancher without his herd. One day he's a physician in Montana's big sky country, the next he's worlds away in the Big Apple, desperately trying to relate to native New Yorkers. His new clinic seems too sterile, the HMO rules obtuse. The teeming streets feel claustrophobic. To deal with the culture shock, Clint relies on what he knows-caring for those around him, medically, emotionally and spiritually.

Doc's premiere on Pax in March of 2001 enjoyed the biggest ratings the network has ever seen. Better yet, Doc has restored families' hope that there are still TV programs they can watch together. Co-creators Dave Alan Johnson and brother Gary R. Johnson couldn't be more pleased with the series' success, but the reasons for their enthusiasm run far deeper than fame and fortune.

Question: Billy Ray Cyrus is a country music star. How did he wind up playing Doc's lead character, Clint Cassidy?

Dave Alan Johnson: We had no interest in Billy Ray at first. We knew "Achy, Breaky Heart." We knew it was a fun song, it got played too much and Billy had that weird haircut. That's about all we knew. Well, Billy's got his own side of the story which you should hear sometime too, but he comes in to meet with us and basically starts to give us his testimony. He's a committed believer. His grandfather was a Pentecostal minister and Billy, like many people, went off and strayed a little bit before realizing what was important in life, and came back to it. Within 10 minutes, we knew this was a divine appointment. He hooked on and Doc is the result of it.

Q: So there's more to this than an effort to create a hit TV show?

DAJ: The only reason we're doing Doc-Billy and us-is to serve God. It's our only motivation. We all could make more money by doing other things.

Q: Was it a calculated decision to place Doc on the Pax network?

DAJ: People need to understand that every time they vote with their television set or their advertising dollars or their money at the box office, they are choosing to have that money serve God or have that money serve the Enemy. They don't see it like that, but believe me, working and living inside this business I can tell you that's what's happening. [Pax owner] Bud Paxon is a believer. He wants to serve God. I believe that one of the purposes for Doc is to help build Pax.

Q: Dave, you've been around the block a few times when it comes to TV. But something's different with your career now.

DAJ: I was an "A" player and I made as much money as I could spend. I was a stand-up, straight-ahead kind of guy, but I didn't understand my purpose. One day, in the midst of all the people lying to me (which is a daily thing in Hollywood) and people trying to cheat me (which is an hourly thing), I turned to my wife and I said, "Let's just chuck this whole thing and go be missionaries someplace." I didn't know what missionary life was, and I didn't really want to be a missionary. What I was saying to her was, "I want to go someplace where no one speaks English" because I didn't want to talk to human beings anymore who lie and cheat and steal all the time. My wife looked at me and she said, "Name one place on earth that needs missionaries more than where you are right now." And that moment changed my life. From that moment on I understood why I was here and it made me look at everything completely differently.

Q: So, how does a committed Christian keep his light shining in such a dark place?

DAJ: I've turned down many jobs. I once turned down a job from Steven Spielberg. That was almost 10 or 11 years ago. I turned down the job because it had to do with channeling and the occult. They didn't mean it to be bad. They just thought it was kind of a cool hook, you know? And I said, "Yeah, it is a cool hook, but that's the problem. I'll end up making it cool and kids will be interested in it." So I turned the job down. My agents at William Morris didn't quite understand it. The people at NBC and Amblin didn't understand it. So I explained it for them: "I'm a Christian. This goes against what I believe and I can't do it. I know you guys don't mean anything bad by it, but it's not just fun. So I can't do it." I was a young writer and had no prospects for what I was going to do next, but within three days I had about six job offers and I have never been out of work a day since.

Q: There's a perception out there that you can't have a quality TV series that doesn't challenge a taboo or push some sort of boundary.

DAJ: I agree that's often the perception, but we've found it's not true.

Gary R. Johnson: I think a lot of the shows the critics say that about are too earnest and preachy and not that well done.

Q: If NYPD Blue didn't have gratuitous profanity and nudity, would it still receive critical acclaim?

Gary R Johnson: Yes. And, you know what? It would also get a bigger audience.

DAJ: The truth is, NYPD Blue is very well done. [Steven Bochco] just used a gimmick to draw attention to a show he knew was going to have trouble getting noticed in a crowded field. The problem is, in today's market, shows that have our values typically are not as well done as NYPD Blue.

Q: Some Christians in entertainment defend unseemly content in their creations because it "gets people in the door." Others insist that, to make relevant cultural statements, a show must offend or shock audiences. We don't see you doing that on Doc.

DAJ: No, because I can't do that.

GRJ: And you don't have to do that. Our total intent is that families watch it together. Many critics out there will say they don't think families ever watch TV together anymore. We don't believe that's true. We've proven it's not true. People come up to me and say, "It's so great to have a show where you don't have to sit there with your finger on the remote." They know nothing's going to come up in this show that they don't want their 8-year-old to see.

DAJ: There are some places we're not going to go. And it's because we just don't think there's a need to go there. I think we're starting to understand better, again, that you can't justify everything. You can't put anything in your art just because your intentions are good. I still have to be responsible. We want to make sure that, when people tune in, they come to a safe place. That place is always going to reflect God's values. I'll give you an example. There's an episode where the wife of one of the doctors is going to have a baby. He sees an ultrasound of his child and says, "Look at that! That's my baby!" He's excited about it and says, "I'm already in love with this baby." That, to me, is a very, very strong pro-life episode. If I can get people to see an ultrasound as a baby, then I've done my part in moving them toward our side of this issue.

Q: What are your views on where Hollywood has taken our culture in recent years?

DAJ: It's that old saying, "Souls are not lost in one great auction; they're bartered away bit by bit." Has the culture taken a huge step into the sewer? Absolutely. I don't remember anything in my lifetime that has been as fast a downward spiral as what we've experienced over the past two years. The networks have so turned their backs and thumbed their noses at the family audience that there's nothing for people like me or my family on network television anymore. And I love television. I grew up in television. I've worked in television. Even so, that spiral presents an opportunity, because it has gone way too far, too fast for a lot of people. People who normally would not even think about it are now sitting there going, "I'm uncomfortable with where we're at."

Q: And that's the theater in which Doc gets to operate.

GRJ: Exactly.

? 2001, Focus on the Family. Used by permission. Reprinted from the December 2001 issue of Plugged In magazine.

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