Back to Jaw About Odyssey

As a service of both AIOHQ, we allowed fans to submit questions to AIO writer John Beebee.  Thank you for all your questions!

Shianne asks, "Besides Adventures in Odyssey episodes, what have you written?"

I’ve written a whole bunch of radio and TV commercials as well as a screenplay or two. Right now, I’m working on a computer-animated kids’ show that’ll be launched next year—it’s really cool!

Shianne asks, "How do the producers (or Focus on the Family) decide who to make a staff writer? Did you have to apply, or did they ask you to come on staff? What are their criteria for an AIO writer, by the way? Do you have to have a credit list a mile long to be part of the show?"

Maybe it’d be helpful to tell you my personal "Adventure in Odyssey."

I came out here to visit in the summer of 1992. Through a friend here at Focus, I got to meet Paul McCusker—who was the AIO Producer at the time. We hit it right off. Later, I sent him story ideas. Paul was very encouraging. So I sent some more. Over four and half years, I kept sending ideas (only because God and my Mom kept encouraging me to do so)!

Finally, Paul invited me to a writer’s conference for existing and potential writers. Hey—exciting! But after I bought my plane ticket, they ended up canning the idea of bringing in new writers. Hey—bummer!

I called Paul and explained my dilemma—here I was, stuck with a non-refundable ticket. After consulting with the staff, Paul said, "Come on!" Hey—exciting again!

That was January 1997. I got my first assignment—"Tornado!"—which aired in March 1998! I continued writing as a freelancer.

Then, in the summer of 1998, I was invited to an AIO recording session in Burbank. That’s when Al Janssen asked if I would consider coming on board full time! Hey—even more exciting!

So, on May 3, 1999, I began my new job as a writer for my favorite radio show!

As far as their criteria? From their point of view, I think it was desperation. But overall, I think they’re looking for good story ideas and good scripts. I think that’s more impressive than a list of credits.

Shianne asks, "How did you come up with the idea for "Buried Sin"? I thought it was great. My brother's favorite episode is "Tornado", particularly because Bart Rathbone is in it."

I’m fascinated by history and I thought it’d be fascinating to unearth a time capsule—except a very different kind of time capsule, containing a murder confession. Thanks for the compliments. (By the way, people ask all the time if this is the same Dr. Newcastle as appeared in "Mysterious Stranger." Yes it is—and yes, that was on purpose.)

Gideon Slife asks, "What was your hardest AIO to write? Do you know Duane Harms?"

Hmmmm. My hardest AIO to write was probably "Virtual Kid."

Yes, I know Duane—at least we’ve worked together over the phone. Neat guy. Very talented. He did an Odyssey puppet project with me—and we just talked over a new shorty coming up featuring the Apostle Paul as a secret agent.

Kevin Jay asks, "Where's you get the idea for Gloobers and the brain guy?"

My son—who was addicted to the "Chip’s Challenge" game at the time—woke up one morning from a terrible dream. In his dream, he was actually inside the game—and he couldn’t get out! He’d go from level to level trying to escape, but couldn’t! Needless to say, he cut down on video games after that. And needless to say, I got a great idea for a show!

The Master Brain represents the gaming industry. While the game-makers may not be inherently evil, the entire industry feeds off of kids’ time—an enormous amount of time! (I’m not against video games per se, I just think kids and parents need to work together to make reasonable limits on the time spent playing them.)

Marshall Smith asks, "What direction do you want to take Adventures in Odyssey?"

Is this the famous Marshall Smith with the space web site? Well, either way, Marshall, the direction of the show is really up to the Producer and Executive Producer. But, for what it’s worth, here are some things I’d like to see (keep in mind, this is just my opinion and not necessarily that of the staff and management of "Adventures in Odyssey" who probably think I’m slightly off my rocker anyway):

  1. My dream is to see Odyssey go "mainstream" into secular markets as well as covering our Christian listeners. Jesus commanded us to "go" and I think this show has tremendous potential to "go" into the world with the Good News.
  2. I’d like to see more story arc to a season (an overall plot to guide the episodes) as well as the "one-off" shows.
  3. Go deeper into our regular characters like Whit, Connie and Eugene--go into their backgrounds as kids, and get to know what makes them tick. What events shaped them to be like they are now? I’d like to put each one into a particularly tough predicament to really prove out their character.
  4. Bring back some of the old regular characters for at least a "cameo" appearance.
  5. More multi-part shows, more long (full) shows (although I still think the half-show format has nice potential).
  6. I’d like to be open to trying new things—"experimental" shows now and then—to stretch the world of Odyssey and the medium of radio.
  7. I’d like the supporting characters to have more depth and definition to them.
  8. It’d be nice to have more "continuity mentions" in the show (refer to existing streets and stores and stories in Odyssey’s past). I think this gives a wonderful sense of heritage and reality to the show.

Anna B. asks, "How old was Mandy supposed to be in "Tornado!"?"

I pictured Mandy to be about six years old. As you probably know, she ended up fast-forwarding about five years in 7 months (probably drank some of that stuff that Alice had in "Alice in Wonderland.") So now, Mandy’s ten or eleven. They say kids grow up fast—and we like to grow ‘em even faster here in Odyssey.

"How many hours on average do you spend working on an AIO episode?"

Once I get an outline complete, which take about a day or so, it takes me about 3-5 days to write a show.

"Aside from AIO, what other work do you do at FOTF? What would a typical day consist of?"

As I mentioned before, I’m working on a real fun kids’ video right now. I also do special things from time to time like the Odyssey puppet show for Sunday Schools or the Odyssey "Search for Champions" series we did for Vacation Bible School (you may be seeing it at your church this summer).

On a typical day, I’ll work on an episode (writing or polishing), maybe get to listen to a playback (of a fully produced show), put together a list of "Listener Comments," make notes in the "Odyssey Writer’s Bible," talk about the website, stuff like that. Overall, I have fun at my job—I really enjoy it.

"Did you listen to AIO before you became a writer?"

Sure did. I was a big fan of the show before I ever came on board. I loved radio drama since I was a kid (even made up my own episodes then in my cassette recorder). And I considered AIO my very favorite radio drama of all. When the writing, the acting, the directing, the music and the production all come together—it’s like magic. And now, I get to be a part of all that!

"What is your favorite episode that you have written?"

Hmmm. I had a bunch of fun writing "The Spy Who Bugged Me." (Trivia point: The original title was "The Spy Who Came Down with a Cold"—a spoof of the famous Hitchcock movie.) But I also enjoyed "Sunset Bowlawater." It’d probably be a tossup between the two.

I’m not just saying this, but with just two exceptions, I have thoroughly enjoyed writing each one of the shows I’ve done. It’s especially fun when I’m laughing as I’m writing--or when I can’t wait to see what happens next!

"Do you ever feel intimidated that millions of people are going to hear what you have written?"

I didn’t until you wrote that question.

"What can you tell us about maintaining the Odyssey Bible?"

First off, I think we need we’ll need to call it the "Odyssey Writers’ Bible" so folks don’t get it confused with the Odyssey Bible we do for kids. Anyway, the OWB was Marshal Younger’s epic work. I’m just continuing the tradition.

I’m listening to every single episode—so I’ve got Odyssey on pretty much whenever I’m in my car. I’m constantly taking notes. Then I’ll bring those notes in to work and stick them in the Bible. I’ve discovered all kinds of fascinating things working on the OWB. (Some examples: In one episode, Jack implies that Whit took his girlfriend—who then became Mrs. Whittaker! That was a shocker! Richard Maxwell is good at pool. Eugene has Dumbo pajamas. Mandy still sucks her thumb. And there are 64 pages of other notes about Odyssey that you guys probably know already.)

Now, one of my favorite games is to trade Odyssey trivia questions with my two sons. They keep me on my toes.

"If you could have one wish for AIO, what would it be?"

That we can bring kids closer to Jesus—either by accepting Him in their hearts, or by living the truly "abundant life" He wants us all to have.

"Have you ever had any episodes rejected by AIO? What were they about?"

Wow. That’s a whole ‘nother website! I’ll give you a few:

Whit launches a secret project in Whit’s End called "Starship Odyssey" which combines Imagination Station technology with a flight simulator and a starship bridge to give kids life-like adventures in space. As kids explore other planets, they learn some down-to-earth lessons.
A spoof of the "Wizard of Oz."
Bart and Doris: A Love Story (based on a listener’s idea). The true story of how Bart and Doris met and fell in love.
Jack comes back from college to find Lucy—and before they know it, they’re talking about…bowling.

"What do you think will change on AIO with Paul as producer?"

I don’t think Paul will make any terribly drastic changes at first. But I do know he’s interested in an overall story arc for the show. He’s also interested in getting into deeper character issues. And, while I won’t give you any hints, I do know he’s eager to solve the Eugene/Katrina dilemma.

While Phil brings a lot of fun to the show, Paul brings a lot of heart. I think the two elements are what makes Odyssey such a satisfying show. Stay tuned! I think you’ll be very pleased about what’s ahead!