When most people think of reality shows, they think of drunken fist fights, profanity laced tirades and sexual escapades.
But it’s a pretty safe bet that BYUtv’s new reality show — chronicling the gospel-filled adventures of eight real-life Mormon missionaries — won’t follow that formula.
“The District” premiered on BYUtv Sunday at 6:30 p.m. and is, according to its creators, the first reality series to follow missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“This is the first time the church has really allowed this level of access to the process of being a missionary,” said Scott Swofford, director and producer of the series and director of content for BYU Broadcasting. He called it a realistic look at what LDS missionaries are and what they do all day.
The eight-week-long series follows six male missionaries and two female missionaries from across the country — including the Wasatch Front — as they work to spread their faith in San Diego, Calif.
Typically, young men go on two-year-long missions and young women’s missions last for a year-and-a-half. It’s a time when young Mormon men and women leave behind family and friends to throw themselves wholeheartedly into the work of proselytizing.
The series comes at a time of great interest in Mormons across the nation, with an LDS presidential candidate and “The Book of Mormon” musical thrilling audiences. But Swofford said the series wasn’t produced for those reasons.
The LDS Church’s missionary department actually began filming about three years ago aiming to use the footage for missionary training purposes, said Swofford, who was the department’s director of media at the time. Those behind the filming, however, soon realized they had compelling stories that a wider audience might appreciate.
Some of the footage did go into training videos of the same name — a district is a term for a group of six or eight missionaries in the field. But other footage, including that of the missionaries’ back stories and daily lives, went toward the TV show.
Swofford said film crews followed the missionaries six days a week for three months, ending up with about 800 hours of footage to edit. He said the series captures the highs and lows of mission life, documenting successes and disappointments. And he said the series doesn’t shy away from controversial topics, including tattoos, alcohol and chastity — all things that came up as the missionaries explained their beliefs.
Swofford said he doesn’t necessarily expect a hit, but he believes Mormons and non-Mormons may find themselves intrigued.
New show to follow missionaries
“The District” will premier on BYUtv this Sunday at 6:30 p.m. Mountain time.