EXCLUSIVE: There has been some behind-the-scenes drama on ABC’s upcoming dramedy Good Christian Belles. A fallout between writer/executive producer Robert Harling and executive producer/showrunners Aaron Harberts and Gretchen Berg on one hand and executive producer Darren Star on the other has led to a decision by producing studio ABC Studios to no longer have Star talk to Harling, Harberts or Berg, go to the set of the show, or go to his GCB office. He continues to give notes on scripts and cuts but to the studio, not to the series’ writing EPs — at least not for the time being. Star also oversees marketing and publicity for the series.
Star was never expected to be full-time on GCB for the long run because he is under an exclusive deal at HBO, where he has the Goldie Hawn-starring comedy project The Viagra Diaries awaiting a pilot green light. (He will go and run that show if and when that happens.) That’s why ABC Studios hired experienced showrunners Harberts and Berg after the pilot to help feature writer Harling. (For the duo, the assignment was part of their overall deal at the studio.) Still, the events of the past couple of months hastened that process, creating behind-the-scene tension along the way. As one observer put it, on GCB “the comedy is on the show, the drama is behind the scenes.”
I hear at heart of the problem was the fractured long-time friendship between Star and Harling. It was Star who originally optioned Kim Gatlin’s book Good Christian Bitches and brought in Harling to write the TV adaptation. Star also shepherded the pilot from development through postproduction. Some say there were signs of friction between the two as early as the pilot stage, but the cracks became very visible after the ABC upfront presentation and subsequent international screenings where GCB was heavily marketed as a Darren Star series with no mention of Harling, something that I hear upset Harling. Tension started building as Harling, Harberts and Berg convened the show’s writing staff to work on storylines and scripts, with Star chiming in from afar. (Star reportedly didn’t do much to defuse the situation).
In the end, I hear the work environment became intolerable, prompting ABC Studios to come up with the new arrangement, which is deemed temporary, at least for now, until things get smoothed out. As for the show, ABC has been happy with its creative direction so far (GCB is now in production on Episode 4), though it is unclear what impact Star’s scaled-down involvement would have.