Hot on the heels of Kevin Costner's breakout TV drama Yellowstone – but set on a completely different continent – Paramount Network's 68 Whiskey centers on a group of Army medics stationed in Afghanistan that do whatever it takes to stay safe and sane. The dramedy recently debuted to the most-watched cable drama premiere since November 2018, so it's clear that viewers are interested in these characters and their oddball, sexed-up predicaments. Which isn't much of a surprise with executive producers like Ron Howard and Brian Glazer.
During this year's Television Critics Association's winter press tour, I spoke with creator Roberto Benabib about bringing 68 Whiskey into a TV landscape where war stories tend to embrace political agendas over human nuances. As well, he shared the key inspiration that Ron Howard gave him when the series was coming together.
Ron Howard's 68 Whiskey Advice
With a career in TV that goes back slightly earlier than his star-making role on The Andy Griffith Show, Ron Howard made a lifelong career partner out of producer Brian Grazer in the early '80s, and their company Imagine Entertainment has produced a library of hit films and series. (Grazer's early career was spent handling TV pilots for Paramount Pictures, so he's right at home on Paramount Network.) That pedigree and experience certainly goes a long way in Hollywood, so I had to ask Roberto Benabib how they helped out during the show's development. In his words:
While I'm sure there are a lot of factors that fit inside the "opened doors" descriptor, that's a lot of behind-the-scenes nitty-gritty that presumably greased a wheel or two where budgets and access were concerned. For Benabib, Ron Howard's biggest creative contribution was likening 68 Whiskey's core squad to the classic stage play Our Town, which from the outset gave a unique look at the daily life of residents in Grover's Corners, New Hampshire.
Of course, 68 Whiskey doesn't share Our Town's metatheatrical approach of breaking the fourth wall and jumping through time between acts. Rather, it hones in on the universally relatable trials and tribulations of characters like Sam Keeley's Roback and Gage Golightly's Durkin, who are essential pieces of the army base's communal pie, even if those two in particular tend to tip the scales more to gossip-worthy chaos than peace.
Why 68 Whiskey Isn't Political
Most news stories about the U.S. military are covered with one form of political motivation or another, be it locally bipartisan or something more global. 68 Whiskey's Afghanistan setting could have easily inspired narratives driven by current events, but creator Roberto Benabib and the rest of the creative team weren't so focused on blatantly reflecting real-world headlines back out to audiences. In his words:
On 68 Whiskey, the big problems aren't due to The Enemy, as it goes with plenty of wartime tales, but many of the same issues the might be facing back home. For instance, Cristina Rodlo's medic Alvarez has to deal with citizenship issues that threaten her Army status, which does speak to hot-button topics such as immigration, but in character-specific ways that avoid name-dropping.
In terms of the overall war-related politics, Roberto Benabib used the classic MAS*H to exemplify how a TV show can approach said subject matter in generalized terms.
As it goes, the names and faces may change, but the ins and outs of a war will almost always stay the same. Roberto Benabib went a step further in pointing out another way the show shines a light on those murky waters.
Had it been less idiosyncratic in approaching its wartime storytelling, 68 Whiskey probably wouldn't be the highly comedic and humane show that has already attracted millions of viewers. And it almost definitely wouldn't have put so much emphasis on a goat this early in its run. Go Petrocelli!
68 Whiskey airs Wednesday nights on Paramount Network at 10:00 p.m. ET.
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Nick is a Cajun Country native, and is often asked why he doesn't sound like that's the case. His love for his wife and daughters is almost equaled by his love of gasp-for-breath laughter and gasp-for-breath horror. A lifetime spent in the vicinity of a television screen led to his current dream job, as well as his knowledge of too many TV themes and ad jingles.