Kim Gatlin might have been the last person to learn Good Christian Bitches is headed back to TV.
Good Christian Bitches is a book Gatlin wrote in 2008 about a divorced woman who returns home to a wealthy Dallas suburb after spending years in godless Southern California. In 2012, Darren Star (the man behind Sex and the City) turned Gatlin's first book into a network TV show. Critics weren't kind to the show, though audience reaction was good. It has a 43 percent critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes and 72 percent positive from audiences. It was canceled after only 10 episodes.
Seven years later, The CW is giving it another shot, and a Good Christian Bitches reboot is in the beginning stages of development.
While the rest of the world learned that news from the internet, Gatlin found out from a friend.
“I'm talking to this friend of mine on the phone and she's like, ‘Uh, is there anything you want to tell me?’” Gatlin says. “She goes, ‘Did you see something that was released just few minutes ago about your show?’ And I went no, and she sent it to me.”
Good Christian Bitches, the book, was born after Gatlin began journaling at the request of a therapist she was seeing while going through a divorce. The sillier things in her life got, the more the journal started shaping up to read like a juicy book, she says.
“I was talking to a girlfriend of mine on the phone, and she said, ‘I'm really floored by the behavior of some of these good Christian women,’” Gatlin recalls. “And I go, ‘You mean good Christian bitches.’ And we both just died laughing. And then I said, ‘I'm gonna write a book one day and call it Good Christian Bitches.’”
Six months later, the semi-autobiographical novel set in Hillside Park — an obvious riff on Highland Park — was written and published. The book tells the story of Amanda Vaughn, a Hillside Park-raised woman who moved to California to start a family. When she returns home after settling her divorce, she finds that her old friends are now Desperate Housewives prototypes who cite the Bible when they need a way to justify their gossip and spitefulness. The Presbyterian church is the backdrop of the novel.
Highland Park and its high society had mixed reactions.
“It was really funny because — How do I say this politely or diplomatically?” Gatlin says. “You know how there's people who never really know what's going on and there's people who think they know what's going on? The people who really knew what was going on got a kick out of it. People who just talk like they knew what was going on thought it was controversial. Like people I never met in my life, you know what I'm saying?”
People began speculating who the muse for each character was. D Magazine ran a speculation blog post that Gatlin says ruined one of her mother’s friendships. One of Gatlin’s friends, who Gatlin says was one-third of the inspiration for the main character, switched sides on her feelings toward the book.
“She was going all over town telling everybody that she was the main character in the book, like not mentioning anything about anybody else having any influence,” Gatlin says. “[She] was like, ‘Oh, that's about me.’ And then when she got wind that a certain someone disapproved of it, ‘I'm not in that book.’”
Vaughn was based on three of Gatlin’s friends, and Gatlin says she tried to make sure it was obvious that Vaughn was not her.
“Everybody thought it was me,” Gatlin says. “And I went out of my way — I even made Amanda's mother a chain-smoking ace golfer, and my mother can't break a hundred and she hasn't had a cigarette in 40 years, you know what I'm saying?”
Other people incorrectly assumed a character was based on them. Gatlin says she even received a cellphone video of a woman in a hair salon declaring that she was a character in the book. Gatlin laughs off most speculation and says typically those people wanting to insert themselves into the book didn’t even cross her mind while she was writing it.
“Every time I'd want to go, ‘Don't flatter yourself; you’re not interesting enough to be a character in my book, you dumbass,’” Gatlin says.
The TV show also caused some controversy. When Christian groups got wind of the name of the show, ABC changed the title from Good Christian Bitches to Good Christian Belles then just to GCB. Gatlin says she was never making fun of the religion — she's a Christian. She was making fun of the holier-than-thou religious women.
Gatlin served as a consultant on GCB, working with the executive producers and writers to ensure her vision of a Good Christian Bitch was accurately portrayed. Some of it fell through, however.
“You probably notice there was a little more Steel Magnolias in those women,” Gatlin remarks.
The women in GCB, played by Kristin Chenoweth, Leslie Bibb, Jennifer Aspen and others, are heavily accented, big-busted rich women with crosses around their necks and well-groomed (sometimes gay) husbands on their arms. They were a little too corny, Gatlin thought, and portrayed a more small-town Texas woman, not the “own breed of cat” Highland Park women are.
Critics of the first series praised the cast but derided the show as superficial. The lead character in the novel was altered to become a woman who was notoriously mean in high school, and the TV show's focus shifted to a war between privileged mean girls who never quite grew up.
"Ultimately, however, GCB is neither an act of piety nor heresy. Mostly a waste of its stars, Leslie Bibb and Kristin Chenoweth, the series turns the clever concept of setting a show in a church into an utterly routine round of mean-girl slagging," The Atlantic's Alyssa Rosenberg wrote.
In any case, the show didn’t make it to season two. Gatlin received the disappointing email right after she had hip replacement surgery. She was in the car with her father trying to get out of the house when she received the message.
“And I said pull over,” she recalls. “I’ve gotta buy cigarettes. And I started smoking. And I'm still smoking.”
But executive producer Aaron Kaplan told Gatlin that he hoped their paths would cross again.
“I mean it's like, with the show coming back it's like I've hit the lottery twice,” Gatlin says. “This shit doesn't happen. You don't write a book for the first time in your mid-40s and have Darren Star make it into a TV show. That just doesn't happen.”
This time, The CW will stick to its original name and Good Christian Bitches will be set in Austin with younger women attending a megachurch. Gatlin will act as a consultant on it again. Gatlin's contract isn't signed yet, so she's tight-lipped on what the reboot will look like, but she says it will start over and have no continuation from the last series. Gatlin isn't concerned about the change in location and age because she says humans are humans.
“We're all human, ya know,” Gatlin says. “So at the end of the day it's all pretty much the same person no matter where you plant ‘em.”
Today, the 58-year-old lives in Preston Hollow but still remains loyal to the Presbyterian church she once made so famous — going so far as to say she plans to have her funeral there one day. She hears murmurs that some aren't fond of her, but she doesn't seem to be too concerned. She has two kids, a daughter, 22, and a son, 27, who she says weren't affected negatively by the book or TV show.
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She works as a ghostwriter for other people's books and has written a cookbook, as well as sequel to Good Christian Bitches under her name but neither have been released. As far as her social standing, she says her place depends on who you ask. Working full time, she says she's had to go inactive in some of the charities she was a part of and learn to say no despite whom it might hurt.
"It took me a long time to get here but the best part for me is, I really don’t care and people who know me know I really mean that," she says.
She learned a lot working with Star and Kaplan and says she believes her aim to poke fun of the good Christian bitches in her life was understood by everyone except Dallas.
"People everywhere understood Christian was interchangeable with all religions," she says. "The only place people insisted on making themselves the brunt of the joke as opposed to being in on the joke was here in Dallas. I got messages from people literally all over the world saying their anger had been misplaced and that they’d been mad at God and they should’ve been mad at people. It’s like the old saying, 'If there’s a hypocrite standing between you and God, then you’re the hypocrite.'"