Madam Secretary writer seeks to bring faith to TV

madam secretary

It has been an excruciatingly painful day for Madam Secretary and her staff.

A plot to negotiate the release of a kidnapped American aid worker fails, and the young woman — together with others who have been trafficked — is found dead from asphyxiation in the back of a truck in Kyrgyzstan.

In the final scene of the episode of the CBS drama, as Secretary of State Elizabeth McCord (played by Téa Leoni, pictured,) tries to console distraught staff members in the wake of this unspeakable evil, the senior policy adviser shares part of a poem by Maggie Smith:

Life is short and the world

is at least half terrible, and for

         every kind

stranger, there is one who would

         break you,

though I keep this from my

         children. I am trying

to sell them the world. Any

         decent realtor,

walking you through a real

         hellhole, chirps on

about good bones: This place

         could be beautiful,

right? You could make this place


It’s a moment of grace, created by Catholic screenwriter and co-executive producer Joy Gregory, who believes the divine speaks through poetry and who has made it her mission to bring stories about “tangling with the big questions” to television.

“I like to ‘sneak the vegetables in’ without people knowing about it,” Gregory told NCR, referring to how she works in storylines of redemption, spiritual struggle and even overt references to faith as a television writer and producer.

That has been easier in her last two jobs on “Madam Secretary” and the teen fantasy drama “Joan of Arcadia” — both created by executive producer Barbara Hall, known for addressing faith on TV.

Before that, Gregory often faced resistance in writers’ rooms full of “secular progressives,” most of whom are not religious.

“It’s a shocking blind spot in people who preach and practice tolerance in many areas of their lives,” she told a group of religion journalists in January.

But television writers can’t hit audiences over the head with proselytizing either, Gregory said.

“Religion too often doesn’t work well on TV because it’s either preaching to a choir, or it’s trying to reach people who have already decided, ‘That’s not me,’ ” she said.

“People don’t want to go deep. It’s not cool; they might ‘catch it.’ ”

Instead of the overt approach, Hall and Gregory try to “throw a bigger party” to attract audiences with compelling spiritual, or even religious, stories. Continue reading

  • Madam Secretary is available on Netflix. In New Zealand, it airs on Prime at 9:35pm
  • Image: Christian Today
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