Here’s the latest from the crossroads of faith, media & culture: 02/23/24

Four-quadrant alert. Four-quadrant entertainment is a term used to describe movies and television entertainment that appeals to all four major demographic “quadrants” of the audience, including males and females and those above and under 25. Most broadly, it’s fare that kids can enjoy with their parents and grandparents with everyone getting something out of it.

Network television at its zenith used to be great at that. For some reason, however, today’s broadcasters have largely abandoned the big tent approach to programming that served them so well for decades. Instead they offer dark pseudo-edgy fare, often loaded with Woke messaging, that succeed only in driving people away or depressing those who actually watch. It’s like they all want to emulate the supposedly sophisticated streamers but, here’s the thing, the streamers are struggling to find enough eyeballs and many of their greatest current ratings successes are coming in the form of off-network reruns, often of the kind of shows the out-of-touch critics are apt to loathe.

Finally, some programmers – like those at Great American Media – seem to be onto the disconnect that has been causing so many viewers to, well, disconnect. Racing to fill the void is County Rescue, a new five-episode drama following the exploits of a courageous team of EMTs, that drops tonight on the Great American Pure Flix streaming service and debuts Monday at 8:00 ET on the Great American Family linear cable channel.

My conversation with executive producers Shawn Boskie and Brian Baugh (who also wrote and directed the initial episodes) follows the brief introductions of three of the show’s young the cast members below.

Atlanta-born Julia Reilly (far left of the trailer still shot above) starred as Tammy Thompson in Stranger Things Season 4. With notable roles in films and voiceover work for brands like Coca-Cola and Sheetz, she’s gained a reputations as a versatile talent.
“I play Dani Miller. I am a rookie at the EMT station…(Dani) is on a journey to discover her calling in life. She’s challenged with relationships with her family, She’s challenged in her faith but she’s meeting some amazing people along her way to discovering what being an EMT is all about …It was really, really inspiring to work with them and get just the smallest little taste of what their lives look like. I have the utmost respect for all EMTs. It was so cool and such an honor to get to work with them on set. I will say whenever I see an ambulance coming by with the lights on I have a whole different perspective and respect for the profession.

Riley Hough (center) started acting at age five, finding solace in the characters he played, especially as someone on the autism spectrum. Trained by Triple Arts and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, he’s represented by Aligned Stars Agency.
“I play Tim. Tim is a kind of awkward, good-natured (and) introverted fellow who goes to be an EMT so he can, hopefully, have the means to take care of his mom…He meets Dani who encourages him to step outside of himself and really take charge of his own life and learn what it means to not only protect and save others but also what it means to help himself out and grow into his own as a person…I hope (my role on this show) can inspire some young people on the spectrum out there that, just because you may perceive things (differently) or struggle with certain things compared with other people, that doesn’t mean you can’t have success in your life…I do see myself staying tight with the people who work on this show. I think this is one of those rare opportunities where you get to go to a set and everybody is so gracious, kind and hardworking.”
Keller Fornes (second from right) is an actor, writer, and producer from Kerrville, Texas. Now based in Atlanta, he has nearly 20 acting credits on IMDB and has written, directed, and produced over 20 acclaimed films and documentaries, many of which have earned awards at film festivals nationwide.
“My character Griffin, he comes across as cocky, confident and happy-go-lucky…but then you find out he’s a little bit more emotional and he internally struggling with pressures from his father, pressures from the world and growing up. (He’s wondering) what he is going to do with his life. I relate to that a lot. Going into the profession of acting is scary. There is no job security whatsoever…It was amazing to get this part, to work on something for almost two months and to be able to relate to the character in a lot of ways made my job slightly easier but it was still a lot of work…(The cast) really got to know each other as people. I think that definitely helped – and shows on screen. We spent all this time time together…just like EMTs spend time together at their station waiting and prepping for those calls. It was an all-around amazing experience.”
Shawn BoskieBrian BaughShawn Boskie and Brian Baugh

JWK: I don’t know if you both recall but I’ve spoken with both of you in the past about your previous projects.

Shawn Boskie: Yes, I do recall. It’s good to talk to you again.
JWK: Thank you. And Brian, like I think most critics, I gave you a rave review for your work Finding You which I thought was a great film.
Brian Baugh: Oh, thanks!
JWK: As a director I said that you demonstrated a real knack not just for romantic comedy but also for action scenes such as those depicted in the fantasy epic movie one of the lead characters was involved in filming in that story. So, will this show give you the opportunity to lean into both romance and action?
BB: (laughs) Yeah, we have a lot of…EMTs fighting dragons! No, none of that in this – but we certainly leaned into some romance on this one and had some fun with that. We’ll hope that viewers are delighted by that. For this target audience, we’re hoping that that will bring a lot of interest as we have some fun with the different characters falling for one another. 
JWK: How’d you come up with the idea for the show?
BB: Shawn and our other lead producer JD DeWitt were so kind to come to me early last year with this concept. They really had the building blocks and then I was able to just build on top of that. We did a lot of research with some very kind EMTs from different parts of the country in different-sized cities and whatnot. They really did a great job of painting a picture of what life is like as an EMT. So, we just really ran from there and tried to think of our target audience and what they would enjoy seeing and experiencing in the ups and downs of these different characters. We just really wanted to create – as I think great TV does – just a wonderful group of people that are all different, all have different interests and different personalities. Just seeing this team of EMTs come together and experience life on this very difficult job together, that was really the inspiration.
JWK: Shawn, what was it that led you to reach out to Brian for this project?
SB: I had been exposed to Brian’s work. Like you, I actually really enjoyed Finding You. I watched it and loved it. It’s not like I search out those types of movies but he did a terrific job. We knew we had a medical drama. We needed somebody that was capable, that would not only catch the vision but would do a great job of writing the episodes. Brian is the showrunner. He is the person that’s connecting all the dots of the characters – their arcs and their struggles. The lead role was played wonderfully (by Julia Reilly). She has a great journey that I think the audience is gonna really appreciate. Brian did a great job of all of that.

JWK: I was looking at the viewer comments under the trailer for County Rescue on YouTube. One person who viewed the trailer said “If Pure Flix wants more subscribers, TV series are the way to go. Movies are great but people love their TV shows. Let’s get back to shows like we used to have.”

That reminded me of not too long ago when I was looking a video of the original Quantum Leap TV series. Someone who identified as a teenager wondered why they don’t make shows like that anymore – that are episodic and uplifting with characters that you care about and root for. He felt like his generation is kind of being ripped off by the dreariness of so much of today’s programming. I was also reading in The Hollywood Reporter about how reruns of of off-network shows like Suits, Heartland and Young Sheldon are dominating streaming.

SB: Yes, that’s true.
JWK: Do you think there’s an opportunity here for Great American Media to revive the style of classic network shows? Are people sort of yearning for those types of shows?
SB: Yes, I think that is the consistent feedback from audiences. They want to come home from work and they want to binge watch multiple seasons of characters that they love. Again, I’d just say that County Rescue has that. Medical dramas tend to draw an audience in. You get to follow these characters through their trials and their victories. That’s why I’m so enthusiastic about this…The audience will let us know but we’re hopeful that Brian will have to disappear to write a number of new episodes.
BB: I think, John, that audiences will always fall for great characters. I think the TV format is so good at allowing audiences time to get to know characters. With that amount of time, you can create characters that are endearing and attractive to audiences. I think the TV format (allows) people to go on longer term adventures with great characters. So, I hope that we get to continue to have more and more opportunities for that in television, whereas, traditionally features have offered more of the big spectacle. 
JWK: TV series give people an opportunity to really get to know the characters.
BB: Yeah, just by the amount of time. You get two hours for a movie but you can get ten hours, twenty hours, forty hours and beyond for (a TV show).
JWK: Do you each have favorite TV shows that you grew up watching  and, perhaps, draw on when you’re producing a show like this?
SB: When I was young I remember watching Emergency!. I mean that was a pioneering medical drama. I loved some of the classics (like) M*A*S*H. If I got to stay up late enough, it would Love Boat or Fantasy Island.
BB: I’m trying to think of the shows that were inspirations to me (with this show). I  guess, more recently, a show that I have really come to respect is Friday Night Lights…I just always respected how well that show dealt with interesting topics and was about so much more than football and it just had this incredible cast of characters. There are so many shows that I respect but that one stands out as a great one. Like this, it’s got a heartland focus and really does a great job of keeping you interested throughout the series.
JWK: Great American Pure Flix is a faith-based streamer and faith plays a role in the lives of the County Rescue characters. Do you feel that faith has to be explicitly mentioned in each episode or can it be more subtle sometimes? What’s your view on that?

BB: My hope as an artist is that we would just be faithful to the characters that we’ve created and that anything spiritual would come out in a very natural way. So, some episodes deal with it more and some are very light on that. We do know that this audience (is) going to be open to those storylines and, in some way perhaps, looking for that. So, we wanted to make sure that some of the characters had that as a natural part of their lives. My hope is that it always comes out in an organic way and is something that’s consistent with the characters. So, knowing the audience, we created characters that have that leaning. Our artistic hope was that nothing would be overly forced but that (faith would play) an organic part of their conflicts and what they’re going through in the storyline.

JWK: So, what’s ahead for the show? How long do you see it running?
SB: We’re excited. Brian, and a number of team members that really poured themselves in to this, have worked so hard. The most exciting time is when you reveal it to the audience and you get to see feedback. That’s really where we’re at. Everything’s sort of pointing toward building toward momentum for the premiere of the series. It’s a limited series so, in many way, it’s kinda like a pilot to see how the audience responds. A lot of people across the Great American team are pretty enthusiastic about this and think it’s gonna be well received. In that case, I would hope that the second season would be somewhere around ten to twelve episodes so you really get to explore these characters and their different adventures along the way. That’s what I think we’re hoping for.
SB: Yeah, we’re just trying to care about our audience. We’re just trying to create great entertainment for them that they can come home and enjoy.

John W. Kennedy is a writer, producer and media development consultant specializing in television and movie projects that uphold positive timeless values, including trust in God.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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