Father-and-son writer-vets explore the troubling toll on the navy’s most valued force.
As a kid in the late ‘80s, visiting the set of his dad’s Vietnam War series, China Beach, David Broyles knew he wanted to be a writer like his father, William royles, Jr.
Some 10 years later, he optioned his first feature, and he’s been writing ever since — managing also to train for and serve in the elite Pararescue force of the U.S. Air Force from 2001 to 2005.
David turned to his military experience for his latest project, History’s SIX — a series that he co-created with his father. The pair also write and executive-produce the show, which premiered in January with eight episodes and has been renewed for season two.
“I was deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and some other places,” David says of his time as a special ops combat search-and-rescue specialist, which involved some extremely dangerous situations, often alongside Navy SEALs. “There was this intense tribal brotherhood with my other teammates that I’d never experienced before.”
As a Vietnam veteran, William also had wartime memories to draw from, but both father and son wanted SIX to dig deeper, delving into the emotional and personal costs of war for the warriors and for their families back home.
“I didn’t realize what my parents went through when I was in Vietnam until I had a son on deployment,” William says. “That’s the other side of the story that we didn’t really do on China Beach — what are the sacrifices and stories of the people left behind who don’t know what’s happening to the people they love?”
Whenever David was deployed, William would hole up in a cabin in Wyoming. “I couldn’t watch TV,” he says. “I didn’t answer the phone. If a strange car came down the driveway, I would go into the woods and hide because I thought they were bringing me bad news.”
In the series, which follows members of Navy SEAL Team Six, David blends aspects of himself and the men he served with into characters like Caulder (Kyle Schmid), Graves (Barry Sloane) and Ortiz (Juan Pablo Raba). “Exploring them and how they handle these situations has been cathartic for me in a lot of ways,” he says.
Instead of gradually introducing viewers to the story and characters, father and son decided to drop them straight into a war zone.
“We started off with what is essentially a war crime by our hero,” David says. “We started at the lowest low for [troop leader] Rip [Walton Goggins]. His is a story of redemption. That was always important.”
SIX does not take a political point of view, William emphasizes, but acknowledges that war is politics.
“These guys are willing to die for their country — and even harder — kill for it,” William says. “That’s beyond moral comprehension for most of us. It’s a whole other set of rules. In that world, the civilian world doesn’t make sense, and these guys go back and forth all the time between the two. Their values as warriors and their values as fathers and husbands are constantly going back and forth."
In real life, members of SEAL Team Six can be carpooling one day and on a mission the next, providing for confusion between work and home. “Some of these guys have been deployed 10, 15, 20 times,” David explains. “We wanted to compress that time frame, put a microscope on it and see how they deal with it. That was the architecture for a lot of the show — the conflict between their worlds.
William and David have worked together previously, but both knew that David’s specific military experiences meant he would take the lead on SIX. “I’ve written a lot of scripts, but I’ve learned that David has a way to get to the simple, emotional heart of things,” William says. “One thing we have in common is that we’re not easily satisfied and keep pushing it.”
David says that watching his dad has taught him to work through the process and build a good script, layer by layer.
“We respect each other equally and both recognize that we bring important things to the table,” David says. “We’re peers and partners, and we’re co-creators. It was an important journey, and I feel very comfortable with it and how we’re working together.”
William recalls working on a script with David late one very hot night. “You’re sitting there working with this guy who’s just not going to quit until it’s really good, and you’re thinking, ‘This guy is good, I’m so glad to be doing this with him.’ Then I think, ‘Oh, wow! That’s my son!’”
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 5, 2017