Dave Alan Johnson, along with his brother created the PAX television show Doc. The show follows a small-town Montana doctor (Billy Ray Cyrus) who followed a woman to New York. The girl leaves him, but he soon realizes that he was meant to be in the city. Johnson has extensive television credits, including a 1996 collaboration with Steven Spielberg called High Incidence.
How did your own faith journey get started?
I was raised in a Christian home and have believed since an early age. But like many people, I never really understood what that meant. It's probably been in the last 10 to 15 years that I have understood what it all means.
I then realized why I'd been placed where I'd been placed. I had created shows for all the networks. I was on the top of everybody's A-list. I was a believer and I thought I was doing God's work, but I just didn't have a complete peace.
Hollywood is a tough place because people lie to you on a daily basis and cheat you and stab you in the back. One day I went home to my wife after continually feeling beaten up and said, "I just want to go be a missionary someplace. Let's just forget all this."
She looked at me and she said, "Name me one place on earth that needs missionaries more than where you are right now."
I still can't talk about that without getting choked up. That moment changed my life. I realized why I had been placed where I'd been placed and why I had been given the gifts I have been given.
What changed at that point?
I was still doing the same things, but I had a renewed sense of purpose. I learned something very valuable during that time, which was that products come and go. TV shows come and go. If God wants a God-honoring show on the air, he'll put one on.
God put me in the path of 100 to 150 people's lives on a daily basis who looked at me as their boss. And I was the only Bible a lot of those people were ever going to see.
Does Hollywood understand the spiritual interest in America now?
No. They really don't. It never ceases to amaze me the level of blindness and darkness that is in this place.
I had the president of a network tell me once that Touched By An Angel was a complete fluke and that nothing about God ever works on TV. If they had done a show about an evil plumber that was doing what that show was, there would be five other shows about an evil carpenter, or an evil truck driver in the works.
How did Doc come about?
I had done work for Jeff Sagansky, the president of PAX, when he was at CBS. He called me up and said, "Do you want to come do something for us?" I went over there and kicked around some possible ideas for a TV show.
How did you end up casting Billy Ray Cyrus as the lead?
My casting director came in one day and said, "Would you guys be interested in Billy Ray Cyrus for this role?" And I said, "No, not really." The achy-breaky guy with the long hair and stuff wasn't what I had in mind.
She came back a couple days later and said that he really wanted to come in and read. He offered to fly himself out. I said, "Well, who are we that we wouldn't meet somebody?" So I told the casting director to tell him to come on by but that we were not asking him to come out. We'd happily see him but I didn't want there to be a misunderstanding.
He walked in and he looked completely different. His hair was different. Everything about him was different. Immediately I just looked at him and said, "Wow, he really looks right for the part."
It was obvious in, literally, five minutes as he told us his testimony and we told him ours that this was a divine appointment and this was meant to be.
This show was actually supposed to go a year earlier, but for various reasons it got delayed. And like many things, at least in my life, God's timing sometimes doesn't seem that good. But when you look at it in retrospect you see how amazing it was.
We didn't know why [the show] didn't go, and we were starting to move on to other [projects], and then, all of a sudden, it came back to life. I realized later it was because Billy wasn't available and wasn't ready before that.
[Cyrus] has his whole side of it to tell you, but he felt like this was his second chance. He said, "This is my second chance to do what God wants me to do."
What episodes are you particularly proud of and what are you pleased with over the life of Doc thus far?
I'm not heavy-handed about [the spiritual content], but we feel God's presence constantly. It's just astounding to us. We did an episode called "Some Gave All" as a way to honor veterans at a time when nobody was interested in the veterans. Even the network didn't really want to do it.
We started shooting that episode on September 10th and one day later suddenly it was cool to be patriotic. We sat on our stages and watched the buildings fall down.
There was also a Mother's Day episode in which Doc's mother dies of cancer.
The episode came from one of our writers, who is actually my brother's wife. Her mother had been diagnosed with cancer and was given three months to live. That was almost two years ago. She just kept going along and had this great spirit about her. And she was a strong believer. We decided to put that into one of our characters.
She started writing this episode the week her mother died. She will tell you that it was the easiest script she's ever written. And one of the most amazing. She just felt God's hand at work.
How does the show balance entertainment with spiritual content?
We know that, first and foremost, we have to entertain people. It's TV, not homework. And we have to earn the right to reach people. American media, television, and movies are probably the most powerful forces on planet Earth. Frankly, it's one place where people will give you their hearts and let you do with their hearts what you want to.
What we first have to do is involve the audience in the characters, in the humor, and then at that point we can bring in truth. And that's what we do. We try to make it an entertaining experience that has God's truth in the bottom of it.
Copyright © 2002 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
Visit DickStaub.com for audio and video of his radio program (4-7 p.m. PST), media reviews, and news on "where belief meets real life." The full text of this interview will be for sale on the website soon.
Earlier Dick Staub Interviews include:
Chuck Palahniuk | The author of Fight Club talks about his new book and the need to see culture not on a TV set but by talking to neighbors. (Oct. 8, 2002)
Frederica Mathewes-Green | The author of Facing East and The Illumined Heart talks about her spiritual journey and transformation. (Oct. 1, 2002)
Chris Seay | The author of The Gospel According to Tony Soprano talks about men who want to be in the "Christian mafia." (Sept. 24, 2002)
John Sloan | The author of The Barnabas Way says Christians need to kiss more frogs and reconsider their prayers for blessings. (Sept. 17, 2002)
Nancy Guthrie | Two years after sharing her story of Hope with Christianity Today, the modern Job tells of losing another child to Zellweger Syndrome (Sept. 10, 2002)
Stephen L. Carter | The Yale University law professor and author of The Emperor of Ocean Park talks about the lack of religious characters in modern fiction (Sep. 3, 2002)
Francine Rivers | The fiction writer says she starts each book with a question that she doesn't know the answer to. God provides the ending. (Aug. 27, 2002)
Ben Heppner | The acclaimed dramatic tenor speaks about getting into opera, his faith, and P.O.D. (Aug. 20, 2002)
Morton Kondracke | The political commentator talks about how being saved from alcoholism, and trying to save his wife from the ravages of Parkinson's. (Aug. 13, 2002)
Mike Yaconelli | The author of Messy Spirituality discusses God's "annoying love." (Aug. 6, 2002)
David Brooks | The Weekly Standard senior editor talks about the spiritual life of Bobos. (July 30, 2002)
Calvin Miller | The author of Jesus Loves Me: Celebrating the Profound Truths of a Simple Hymn talks about childlike faith (July 23, 2002)
Kathleen Norris | The author of The Virgin of Bennington talks about being found by God in the midst of sex, drugs, and poetry. (July 16, 2002)
Thomas Moore | "To really live a secular life and enjoy it is part of being a religious person," says the author of Care of the Soul and The Soul's Religion (July 9, 2002)
Os Guinness | Whether we're seeking or have already been found, we're all on a journey. (July 2, 2002)
Oliver Sacks | The physician author of Awakenings talks about his Orthodox Jewish upbringing, order in the universe, and testing God. (June 25, 2002)
David Myers | People say they know money can't buy happiness, says the Hope College psychology professor. But they don't truly believe it. (June 18, 2002)
Richard Lewis | The comedian, actor, and author talks about his humor, addiction, and spiritual journey. (June 11, 2002)