Before the TV hit ‘God Friended Me,’ there were two friends fascinated with faith

Religion News Service | 11/9/2018 | Staff
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(RNS) — When the creators of CBS’s new, surprise hit TV show “God Friended Me” set out to create a series with religious ideas at its center, they wanted to bring something innovative to the genre: Doubt.

It’s a theme that the handful of earlier successful faith-based shows hadn’t tried. “‘Highway to Heaven’ is a touchstone for many of us who grew up in that generation,” Bryan Wynbrandt, the co-executive producer of “God Friended Me,” told Religion News Service late last month. “But as storytellers, as adults, it just didn’t interest us to tell a story that says there is 100 percent [for certain] a God.”

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“There’s no ambiguity,” added the show’s other co-executive producer, Steven Lilien, Wynbrandt’s longtime friend and creative collaborator.

“God Friended Me” follows the adventures of the atheist son of an Episcopal priest who’s dispatched to intervene in the lives of New York City strangers by a mysterious Facebook user named “God.” It was inspired by the two showrunners’ real-life friendship of nearly 20 years.

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Lilien, 40, and Wynbrandt, 41, have been friends since shortly after both arrived in Los Angeles fresh out of college to launch careers in the entertainment industry.

Both were reared in Jewish families, but as adults the trajectories of their spiritual journeys diverged.

Lilien - Believer - Faith - Wynbrandt - College

Lilien remains a believer, connected to his Jewish faith, while Wynbrandt, who married his college sweetheart — a cradle Catholic — has arrived at an agnostic or atheist place.

“I never really felt a connection, but I went through the paces,” said Wynbrandt of his traditional Jewish upbringing in Ohio, complete with a bar mitzvah. But as he learned more about his wife’s Catholicism and she learned more about Judaism, he began to question the idea that any one religion had a corner on truth.

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