'GCB' moves past initial controversy

The stars of GCB, a new TV series premiering at 9 p.m. Sunday on ABC, know a thing or two about high living.

These actresses are all show-business veterans and they have witnessed plenty of Hollywood excess.

But when they arrived in North Texas last March to film the series pilot for GCB, a show that satirizes the lives of the fabulously rich and pious, it was an eye-opening, jaw-dropping experience.

"With the women in Highland Park," leading lady Leslie Bibb says, "when you look in their houses and in their closets, you're like, 'Woo hoo!'

"It's incredible. It's unbelievable. It's insane."

It's also the backdrop for a hugely entertaining hour of television.

Welcome to the thinly fictionalized community of Hillside Park, where the high-end homes are like cathedrals and the shopping is almost a religious experience.

North Texans live only a few miles from the real-life version of this place, Highland Park and University Park, just north of downtown Dallas. But for most of us, the lifestyle there is light-years away.

"Even if you're just six blocks away," co-star Jennifer Aspen says, "you live in a whole other world."

The series is based on the novel Good Christian Bitches, by Park Cities resident Kim Gatlin.

It's about a reformed mean girl, Amanda Vaughn (played by Bibb), who falls on hard times and returns to her childhood home to start over as a single mother of two. Once there, she finds herself targeted by the GCB clique she terrorized years earlier when she was the most popular girl in school.

Amanda's adversaries are led by vengeful and devious Carlene Cockburn (Kristin Chenoweth). Carlene is the type who prays for Amanda's soul while conspiring against her.

When asked how she came up with the premise, Gatlin says, "I went though a really difficult time during and after a divorce that was made even more difficult by the neighborhood gossips. Some of the worst perpetrators were women who held themselves up in the community of Christian women."

Robert Harling, the playwright whose biggest claim to fame is Steel Magnolias, adapted the book into a series and serves as an executive producer alongside Darren Star of Sex and the City fame.

"These are two men who know how to write about a community of women," Chenoweth says.

Adds Annie Potts, who plays Amanda's flamboyant mother: "This is a show that gives women a bully pulpit to examine all kinds of issues -- women's relationships with one another, women's relationships with men, women's relationships with the church, women's relationships to society. That's exciting."

This over-the-top comedy/soap also has been a lightning rod for controversy.

Not everybody appreciated the title when the book came out last year. Not everybody grasped the fact that Gatlin was mocking a specific group of church-going phonies, not Christian faith as a whole.

So it should come as no surprise that, when the show went into production with the same Good Christian Bitches title, certain groups voiced their displeasure.

So, ABC changed the title to Good Christian Belles, which Harling objected to. "The word 'belles' connotes hoop skirts and a kind of Alabama-Mississippi culture," Harling explains. "That isn't the way Texas women see themselves."

Ultimately, it was rechristened GCB.

It's a change that most of the cast members applaud.

"I understand irony and satire," co-star Miriam Shor says. "When you juxtapose two diametrically opposed words, it creates a tension that's interesting. But I also understand why it was controversial, why people of the Christian faith had a problem with it. So, I get why ABC changed the title. I didn't like Good Christian Belles. Dallas women do not see themselves as Southern belles, so that didn't feel right."

Adds Chenoweth: "I am personally glad it became GCB. Because I want the focus to be on the story and not on a controversy about a title."

Aspen says, "I am over the moon about GCB, the initials, as the title. It's very much in the vernacular of today's texting and tweeting culture. Like, 'Let's LOL while we watch GCB!'"