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Scott D. Pierce: BYUtv's 'Granite Flats' is not too Mormon-y

Published April 3, 2014 5:35 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

BYUtv's "Granite Flats" returns for a second season on Sunday (4 and 7 p.m.) and there still seems to be some confusion about what it is.

Yes, it's produced by and telecast on LDS Church-owned BYUtv.

No, it's not a show about Mormons. It's not a show about faith. Set in a small Colorado town in the early 1960s, it's a show about kid detectives, Soviet satellites, mind-control experiments, the FBI, the CIA and Russian spies.

It's a handsomely produced, entertaining series that accomplishes its primary goal: The entire family can sit down and watch it together, and the adults won't be bored.

There are religious characters in "Granite Flats." Not Mormon, but religious. One of them prays in Sunday's season premiere.

"That's an old dramatic tradition from the Greeks," said producer/writer/director Scott Swofford. "You could talk to God anytime you want."

And it's not as if this is the first series in which characters pray. We've seen that on "The Waltons," "Touched by an Angel," "7th Heaven" and more. Even on "The Simpsons."

Swofford said it's all about balance. "If too much talking to God goes on, it's a God show. Our show's not about that. It's about the Cold War. It's about people."

And it has attracted the attention of some people you might not expect. Finola Hughes ("General Hospital") joins the cast as Season 2 begins. Christopher Lloyd ("Back to the Future") comes aboard for three episodes as an English teacher, and Cary Elwes ("The Princess Bride") arrives as a CIA agent for a four-episode stint.

"I can't make them rich," Swofford said. "I can sort of make it worth their time, but that's about it."

There's little discernible difference between the production values on "Granite Flats," which is budgeted at less than $1 million per hour; a network drama costs closer to $4 million per hour. But that BYUtv budget means actors have to take the parts because they want them, not because they need a paycheck.

"There's no amount of money we can give Christopher Lloyd that he needs," said Derek Marquis, BYUtv managing director and an executive producer of "Granite Flats." "This is a part that resonates with him."

"He could make more in a weekend at Comic Con as Doc Brown than he can make working for us," Swofford said.

Yes, the folks at BYUtv are hoping viewers will like "Granite Flats" and stick around to watch other programming on their channel. But the primary goal of the series is to entertain.

"Nobody goes home and says, 'Boy, I just want to be uplifted tonight,' " Marquis said. "You say, 'I just want to escape. I just want to laugh. I just want to be entertained.' "

"Granite Flats" does just that.

Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at spierce@sltrib.com; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.