If GCB were on a cable network, it undoubtedly would have been called Good Christian Bitches, like the book it’s based on. But for ABC, it’s going with the tamer title. Written and produced by Robert Harling (Steel Magnolias, First Wives Club, The Evening Star), the series spotlights the journey of Amanda Vaughn (Leslie Bibb), who has returned to Dallas with her teenage children, following the demise of her marriage.
In high school, Amanda was a the popular beauty who became a ‘mean girl.’ Therefore her fellow school mates, including Carlene (Kristin Chenoweth), Cricket (Miriam Shor), Sharon (Jennifer Aspen) and Heather (Marisol Nichols), who have now become fully inducted into a twisted little social clique of affluent, God-fearing, steely women, make it abundantly clear to Amanda that she is not welcomed home.
Robert Harling spoke with TV critics about his new series, which has been favorably compared to Desperate Housewives.
How do you feel about the change in the title? Obviously, it was based on the title of the book. Do you think it dilutes it to be called GCB?
Well, the term GCB is a phrase that these women in Texas refer to themselves as. The use of the [book] title raised a lot of eyebrows.
When I started working on it, I put that aside and realized that what we were trying to do was really create an environment that was very respectful.
I think the characters that have been created are incredibly unique and are all motivated by a real sense of goodness.
So the idea of calling it Good Christian Bitches was not something that seemed to settle at first.
What was it about the book that made you want to adapt it for the TV screen?
Everyone says write about what you know. I know this world very, very well.
What’s always been fascinating to me in particular is there’s a dynamic in Dallas, where these really great guys fall in love with their old childhood sweethearts, they marry, and they have this wonderful life together, and sometimes there’s extracurricular activities.
I’ve always been fascinated by that dynamic.
Your show is being compared to Desperate Housewives. How do you feel about that?
I would love to be compared to a show that’s one of the biggest hits in the history of television, that has maintained its crystalline point-of-view, wit and fun for eight years.
Right now, if you look at the two shows, the fabulous thing about Desperate Housewives it is universal and dynamic. It could be happening [any]where.
I think the fabulous thing about what the actors do [in GCB] is they create a world that’s very specific. Our world could only take place in Texas and only in Dallas, and only in a particular part of Dallas. And it’s a part I love.
Why was Amanda so mean in high school?
We’ve had many discussions about this. I don’t believe Amanda got up [in the mornings] and said, ‘Oh, how can I be mean today?’ She was just beautiful and popular, and that is an amazing currency, especially at that age. And she would say, ‘I want this.’
It wasn’t to be specifically mean, but she [stole]. She spread terrible rumors about Cricket. She was popular and could get away with it.
So that give the actor and the character a wonderful journey, because Amanda looks back and says, ‘What did I do? What was I thinking?’ And that process makes the character go, ‘Wait a minute. I can try to rectify some of this.’ But unfortunately, a lot of the damage has been done.
Do you feel this is a send-up or a heightened-reality look at Texan women and the Baptist church?
I don’t think it’s a send-up at all, no. I would like to consider it a love letter. It’s a love letter because this is where I live. These are my people. I love these people. The great thing about Texas people and Dallas especially, because I have lots of family there, is they get the joke.
They understand that they are larger than life, and they love that. So I think rather than a send-up, it’s a celebration of that whole Texas thing. And it’s not about any particular religion. It’s just about a faith-based community.
As you take the journey with the show, these are not superficial stories. These are not superficial issues. These are women that are in an environment where they do express themselves in a larger way.
My family in Dallas does not live in Highland Park. But it was based on a book written by a Dallas woman (Kim Gatlin). I know her, and she’s fabulous. And she is one of these women.
There is something special about southern women. They are iron butterflies. They have this genteel beauty and femininity, but they also have this steel core. Why do you think that is?
That is a great question. That was actually explained to me by a very wonderful ‘iron butterfly’ that I knew when I was young.
She said in the olden days on ranches, the man went off and did everything, and the mother, the matriarch, basically had to hold the family together, had to hold the world together. And so it’s a tradition of these women really figuring out how to make it all work, whatever tools they have.
We’re not in that particular socioeconomic environment anymore, but I think the heritage of that possibly has imbued that area [in Texas] with very strong women. Also, you’ve got to look as good as you can.
My sister-in-law, who lives in Dallas, says, ‘No self-respecting Dallas woman leaves the house unless she looks like she’s going somewhere.’ That’s part of the culture.
Episode 3 “Love is Patient” can be seen tomorrow, Sunday March 18, 2012.