Roma Downey and Will Packer have teamed to produce “The Baxters,” the first scripted drama series for Downey’s Lightworkers Media streaming platform.
The series is based on the novel series by Karen Kingsbury about the ups and downs of a large family with six adult children. The faith-based novels have been popular with the audience that Lightworkers aims to reach with its daily blend of uplifting news, lifestyle and entertainment content.
The plan is to produce a first season consisting of 12 episodes that each run 11 minutes. A writers room is up and running with the hopes of starting production in the summer.
Downey has had the option on Kingsbury’s 26 novels for more than five years. The deal between Downey’s Lightworkers and Will Packer Media came together through the development work of MGM TV executive Katie Christian and Jaime Primak-Sullivan, head of digital development and production for Will Packer Media. Lightworkers is a joint venture of Downey, MGM Television and Digital and Mark Burnett, Downey’s husband who also heads MGM TV.
“We explored many avenues for this show,” Downey told Variety. “We believe digital is the way to bring it to life.”
Downey said the Lightworkers platform was the right venue to tell the story in which the family’s abiding faith and spiritual themes do not have to be watered down in a generic fashion.
“By making it ourselves it gives us a creative freedom we wouldn’t have elsewhere,” Downey said. “These characters are sincere in their faith, and that sets them apart from other stories.”
Packer’s busy film and TV production company has been looking for openings to boost its digital content activity and work in the faith-based arena. In that sense, “The Baxters” was a perfect fit. The book series began in 2002.
Packer said he is impressed with the resources that Downey and MGM are putting into Lightworkers, which went live in September.
“Roma has identified a massive audience and she’s meeting them exactly where they are,” Packer told Variety. “She’s giving them a platform that puts the content they want in one place.”
Like Downey, Packer believers there is a big opportunity in the entertainment market for high-end content that examines issues of faith, spirituality and religious activity in the lives of characters. And that doesn’t mean the material has to be syrupy or overly sentimental.
“There’s a void right now,” Packer said. “A lot of what is circulating out there right now feels watered down. People want content that is rooted in truth. We’ll have endings that are not always happy.” Packer added that the production is an opportunity to “take some chances with new voices” on the writing staff.
Downey said Packer’s team “brought a real dynamic energy” to the “Baxters” project that helped get it off the ground. Author Kingsbury has a big social media following that will also be tapped to bring viewers to Lightworkers.
“The tone of this is going to be heartwarming and moving,” Downey said. “It’s going to have a nice contemporary feel that will make it accessible for everyone.”