Gary Johnson is co-creator of PAX TV’s “Doc” and “Sue Thomas: F.B.Eye,” which consistently vie for the network’s top spot.
Even Jerry Seinfeld has said dirty jokes are easier, so those who make a living out of clean material deserve special recognition.
“That’s good,” Johnson told EthicsDaily.com in a phone interview from his office in Ventura, Calif. “We don’t have to have a favorite.”
But “Doc” and “Sue Thomas” are only Johnson’s most recent family shows on the air. His success goes back at least a decade to “Against the Grain,” which starred a then unknown Ben Affleck.
The Johnsons sit on the advisory board of the Parents Television Council, as does Billy Ray Cyrus, who plays Clint Cassidy on “Doc.”
Brent Bozell, PTC’s founder, asked the Johnsons to serve on the board after seeing the family-friendly nature of “Against the Grain.”
“It just seemed like the right thing to do,” Johnson said of accepting PTC’s offer. “They don’t really want to pass laws” to make television better. “They want it to be done, but they want responsibility to be taken by people in the industry.”
So the Johnsons stepped up to the plate and, with PAX’s platform, are now delivering the increasingly popular family shows.
In fact, PAX passed the WB network on the final weekend of February sweeps. From 8-10 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 23, PAX held a 45 percent advantage in total viewers over WB.
“Doc” pulled a 1.6 rating (its best of the season) and 2.6 million viewers. It was followed by “Sue Thomas,” which earned a 1.4 rating and 2.2 million viewers. (A rating marks the percentage of TV households watching a program.)
PAX currently reaches 88 percent of U.S. TV households through broadcast, cable and satellite systems.
“If they can continue to improve the distribution,” Johnson said, “the ceiling is very high.”
Johnson also praised PAX for its support.
“For both shows, working with PAX is a great thing for us because we’re interested in doing entertaining shows that are appropriate for any person in the family regardless of their age,” he said.
“We never get a call from PAX wanting it edgier or sexier,” Johnson continued. “We make the exact shows we want to make, we say what we want to say.”
Johnson said he has no interest in writing and producing edgier material.
“We know that television definitely has an effect on people,” he said. “If it didn’t, companies wouldn’t spend billions of dollars to advertise on it.”
“We feel there’s enough cynicism out there,” he added. “We want to do a show that’s hopeful and God-honoring.” He pointed to Billy Ray Cyrus’ character as an example of what they’re trying to do. Cyrus’ Clint Cassidy, Johnson said, “wants to do the right thing in a world that makes it increasingly hard to do.”
“We have a show that teenagers are watching and we’re not showing them that you have to be sexually active or cynical or selfish to be cool,” he said. “I would have to think that there are some kids coming up these days who think that life is all about you—what you need to do to be happy and satisfied.”
“If there’s one thing we need, we need more decency and less cynicism. And less of this reality genre that’s popped up now,” he said. “All of that eventually catches up to a society.”
With two shows in production, Johnson is certainly doing more than his fair share to keep scripted, quality programs in front of audiences.
This year, the Johnsons are shooting 22 episodes for “Sue Thomas” (its first year) and 24 for “Doc” (its third). It’s a lock that PAX will renew both shows.
Johnson stays busy, but it’s not time away from family. His wife, Joan Considine Johnson, is also on the writing staff of both shows.
“We don’t have any kids. It’s just the two of us and we work together,” he said. “We’re with each other 24 hours a day.”
She grew up Catholic, he Lutheran. They now attend a Presbyterian church in Moorpark, Calif.
As for who Johnson admires, he quickly mentions Bud Paxson, the founder of PAX TV, “who took his own money and started a network totally aimed at things a family can do together.”
And admiration in Hollywood can be hard to come by.
“People who are … in this business, there’s just so much of lying as an everyday occurrence,” Johnson said. “Sometimes people in this business lie when they wouldn’t even need to.”
“I admire people who step up and say, ‘Something needs to be done and if I have to do it, I will,'” he said. “I know of other people who have turned down jobs as writers and actors because the material might be harmful to someone.”
Johnson said one of the staff’s mantras is, “We’re called to be faithful, not successful.”
“I know there’s a lot of frustration for people out there who are fed up with what they’re seeing,” Johnson said. “Some people are out there praying for a network like PAX and don’t know it exists.”
But it does exist, and—with Johnson’s creativity and ethic—is both faithful and successful.
Cliff Vaughn is associate director for EthicsDaily.com.
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