Dave Christiano

7th Street Theater was the first ever prime time dramatic Christ-centered series in the history of broadcasting when it first hit the airwaves in 2007. This project of 64 episodes took 9 years to complete. Here is an interview with the writer, producer and director of the series, Dave Christiano.

How did the idea come about for this TV series?
I was planning to shoot a new movie in 2003 when the TV series idea started to surface. So in 2003, I sat down and wrote what eventually became the 2nd episode entitled Surprise!. From there, I started writing the shows and laying the foundation for the characters and how this would eventually play out. I found a building where we could build the sets needed for the show and the initial goal was to produce 65 episodes for this series.

What were your initial thoughts about the series?
What made me decide to do the series was that there were no Christ-centered dramas on TV to watch. I felt it was very much needed. Christian television needs dramas badly, but there were none at the time so I started to work on 7th Street Theater. It's really a shame to me that the people who make the decisions at Christian TV Networks do not see the importance of a Christ-centered drama series. Programs like this can really make an impact for Christ if the message is intact.

When did the production actually begin?
Our first day together on the set was November 1, 2004. First day of actual shooting was Nov 2, 2004. We starting shooting episode #2 first.

How did you find your cast?
I had worked with both Hugh McLean (Gates) and Josh Gaffga (Jamie) on my movie Late One Night in 2001 and cast both of them from there. I went through a talent agency in Charlotte NC to find Stacey J. Aswad (Andi), Johanna Jowett (Kelly), and Cody Harding (Joanna). Shane Willimon (Travis) was recommended by Hugh McLean. Jack Kelly (Rudy) came from Beverly Holloway out in Los Angeles, a casting director my brother had worked with. Terry Loughlin (Mr. Wheeler) was cast for my movie Me & You, Us, Forever and so that is how I knew him. Stacey recommended actor Mark Scarboro (Seth). Shane introduced me to Bryan Gallagher (Chad) and I found Shayne Kohout (Lisa) through a talent agency in Atlanta who I worked with on Me & You, Us, Forever.

What was the most difficult thing about shooting the series?
Without question, working around the actor's schedules was the toughest thing to do. They were all involved in other projects or other jobs and so trying to work around that was very difficult at times.

Can you talk about changes in Season Two?
One foundation I established for this series was that I would not depart from the original vision, so I feel like Season Two and Season Three are simply an extension of Season One. I hope that viewers will agree. I do not like it when a series gets off base so much that you don't recognize it anymore down the line. I would stop doing this series before I would ever let that occur. In Season Two, schedules made it very difficult at times and because of it, a couple of new characters eventually surface. The direction I took the show was something I had in mind back in the early days, so none of this was a surprise to me. Most of the ideas and storylines presented in Season Two and Season Three I had since Season One.

Do you have a favorite episode or scenes you would like to mention?
Well, we worked hard on all the shows and the key to me has been the talent of the actors. I am very pleased with their effort. I think most everybody in the cast and crew would cast their vote for Movie Star as their favorite episode from Season One. It was a special show. Johanna Jowett gave a fantastic performance in that one and the supporting cast was very strong. Plus, there was a good editing effort with the visual effects.

In Season Two, Star Mission will easily get the vote. It was by far our most expensive episode to shoot and really was a big effort for our small production team to pull off. The cast had a lot of fun doing that show and it made me want to write more episodes like it.

So, in Season Three, the idea came along for Didn't Get The Chance, which was another special one to do. It is a 1940's Detective mystery and probably the favorite for the cast in that Season. They enjoyed dressing up and playing the characters from that era. Another episode in Season Three that was quite an effort was Mayday, where 3 characters survive a crash landing and are stranded in the middle of the Atlantic ocean. The key person to this episode was Fred Pachter, who was my set designer. Fred came on board in Season Two and was a tremendous addition to this series. He came up with a way to make it look like a raft was floating in the water. It was a tough episode to shoot, possibly as hard as any we did.

When I look at the episodes, I think The Word in Season One is the most important because of the topic and I think A Day Ahead in Season Two is the most thought provoking. It was an interesting episode to try and do. And then in Season 3, a significant episode is The Name, in particular, the very last scene, which was based on a real life incident. But overall though, if I had to choose just one episode that is the most important to me, and if a person was only going to watch one, it would be Death Row from Season 3. It's the most evangelistic work the Lord put in my heart to do and probably the one I took the most time with. My prayer sincerely is that the Lord will use that episode to lead people directly to Christ.

Other special moments for me are the last 9 minutes of the episode entitled Andi in Season One which was a great effort by all. It was the most difficult sequence we attempted in the entire series.

For scenes, there are many to me that are touching and well played by the actors. The speech by Jack Kelly in One Lucky Lady from Season One could be the highlight of that season and the end scene with Shane Willimon and Stacey J. Aswad in The Bus Stop from Season Two has heart and hope. I also like the end scene we did in A Sudden Change (part 2) from Season Two. This is between Hugh McLean and Johanna Jowett where she plays a college student and he plays a hard line professor. It's probably my favorite scene we did in the entire series.

Tell us about Season Three?
We started shooting Season 3 in August 2008 and because of scheduling, it strung out for several months. We have a couple of new developments in the storyline that I hope viewers find interesting. Also, I'm happy with the way the Season (and Series) ended.

We did 24 episodes for Season One and 24 for Season Two, but then I moved 4 of those second season shows into Season 3 to make it 20 for both Season Two and Season Three. So the total count made it to 64 episodes, one shy of the initial goal when this all began. The last day of shooting was July 31, 2009.

Any final thoughts about the series?
Well...for one, it was a lot of work to do this project. It took over the span of nine years from the first script to the final edit. 64 Episodes. That is a lot of work. My involvement was every step of the way from script to edit, so it was very time consuming for me personally.

Secondly, and maybe more importantly, this was the first ever prime time Christian drama series in the history of broadcasting, which to me is very significant. My hope would be that more and more dramas would appear on Christian TV, and that Christian television could become more like the secular networks in regards to offering dramas, sit-coms and more movies - but all with a message for Christ. I see this as a problem though because the current regime in Christian television doesn't share the same vision. I am not a fan of most Christian television because I feel it is mis-led and that there are many false teachers on the airwaves. I tried to steer Christian TV in what I felt was a correct direction with this series. I was fighting a strong current against me and that too led to my decision to stop after three seasons.

I enjoyed working on 7th Street Theater very much and cared greatly about the people I worked with. We were a family and the actors and crew put forth a tremendous effort to make this happen. I would have liked to continue doing it and maybe one day will get the chance to do another series. In the meanwhile, my hope is that 7th Street Theater will live on and be seen for years to come.