On Friday, Netflix premiered “Granite Flats,” a TV series set in 1960s Colorado during the Cold War where not everyone in town is who they seem. The news here isn’t that the streaming service acquired an existing show to make available for its subscribers, it’s where it came from.
“Granite Flats” is the first scripted drama series from the thriving cable network BYUtv, operated and funded by Brigham Young University. The channel has been in existence since 2000 and is available on Dish Network, DirecTV, and 900 cable providers. But now being tapped by the most prominent streaming service, the network suddenly has many more eyes looking at it.
“I would love to say this was in our master plan, but we just got lucky,” Derek Marquis, BYUtv’s managing director told Business Insider.
The first season of “Granite Flats” aired on BYUtv in 2013 and quickly found an audience with its family-friendly values mixed with edgy subjects like the town’s chief of police on the trail of a KGB spy and the local VA hospital experimenting with mind control as a way to defeat the Soviets. They then upped the ante by bringing on veteran characters actors like Christopher Lloyd (“Back to the Future” films) and Parker Posey (“You’ve Got Mail”) the following seasons.
“We found ‘Granite Flats’ spreads across demographics,” said Marquis. “We don’t refer to it as family-friendly television because for some reason people think that’s sappy. It’s really co-viewing.”
Showrunner Scott Swofford, who is also BYUtv’s director of content, described the show’s draw as: “We wanted to create something where parents and children could share an experience. They are going to watch and then sit down and talk about it.”
When BYUtv was putting the final touches on the third season, talks with Netflix began to pick up.
In April, the deal was announced that Netflix would not just exclusively premiere season three of "Granite Flats" but also carry the first two seasons — making "Granite Flats" the first show that’s currently on the air on another network to debut a new season on Netflix.
Season three of “Granite Flats” will air on BYUtv in October.
Marquis wouldn’t go into specifics on who courted who, but he will say the deal was a no brainer for BYUtv. Reports out of Salt Lake City suggest Netflix were the ones who came calling.
“People want to watch shows when they want to watch it, where they want to watch it,” said Marquis. “And if you make them wait you’ll lose some percentage of them. This seemed like the natural next step for us.”
Brigham Young University — a private university based out of Provo, Utah, owned and operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — has been in the media business since the 1940s when it started its own radio station (which is still on the air). To date, it operates six television stations, a station on Sirius radio, as well as TV stations in Latin America.
But in 2000, BYUtv was created with the mission of exporting the BYU experience to their alumni. Soon, according to Marquis, the network started to gain attention from people who didn’t have BYU ties.
“We were not out their knocking on cable system doors,” he said. “Dish Network launched us first and literally within weeks we were getting calls from cable operators outside of Utah [wanting to carry us].”
The network has their own “Saturday Night Live”-like sketch comedy show, “Studio C,” and reality TV shows like “American Ride,” which follows the travels of a motorcycle-riding history teacher around the US. It also airs BYU Division I sporting events, which includes a deal to air exclusively with ESPN.
BYUtv is currently manned by 120 full-time staff, and many contract workers from Hollywood who come on as crew on the shows. It also works with the university to help students gain real-world experience.
And in doing so, led to the network’s most successful show to date.
In 2010, senior James Shores was accepted to the university’s class “Writer’s Block,” in which students write and produce a 30-minute short film that then airs on BYU’s public access channel. Shores came up with “Heaven Under A Table,” which follows a young boy who paints art under his school desk.
“LDS (Latter-day Saints) people, like any religious group, can be a tad easy to get offended sometimes, but there are fringes everywhere,” said Shores. “So I pictured the story in the '60s. You have cool costumes, we’re trying to get to the moon, and the way people talked was a little more conservative back then.”
After Shores graduated, Swofford came across “Heaven Under A Table.” Along with some other ideas Shores had pitched BYUtv, the networked asked him to create a pitch for a show that combined them all.
And “Granite Flats” was born.
Shores has creator credit on the show and wrote episodes for the first season. He’s no longer actively on the show and is currently working on getting another project off the ground.
“Granite Flats” is made for about a quarter of what Hollywood does per episode, according to Marquis, because it’s done entirely out of Utah — including an abandoned 1960s-preserved town just outside of Salt Lake City that’s used for many exteriors. They also have a 100,000 square-foot production studio and distribution facility on campus.
The number of subscribers BYUtv has and how large the “Granite Flats” viewership is are kept under wraps. And though Marquis said a fourth season of the show hasn’t been confirmed yet, he feels if there is one it would likely also premiere on Netflix.
"We are not driven by advertisers or ratings,” said Marquis, “so we have flexibility to experiment and be pretty aggressive with the stuff we do.”
Watch all episodes of "Granite Flats" now on Netflix.
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