New ‘Parenthood’ Mingles Drama, Humor for NBC
Ron Howard's 1989 movie joins the ranks of TV remakes Tuesday (10 ET/PT), 20 years after the network tried a short-lived comedy spinoff. Few will remember it, though; the show, which starred Ed Begley Jr. in the role originated by Steve Martin, lasted all of 11 episodes.
"We discovered a half-hour sitcom was not enough to deal with the family, the depth and dimension the movie had," Howard says.
Though Howard and producing partner Brian Grazer talked about a movie sequel, "We felt like we'd just be exploiting the title, and we wouldn't really be able to say anything new."
But when Jason Katims, producer of their company's Friday Night Lights, approached them with an idea for another remake, Howard asked why he couldn't just build a new series from scratch. "He felt he'd be copying it, so he might as well do it if we were amenable, and we were," Howard says.
Lights, which returns to NBC April 30, focuses on a Texas town obsessed with high school football, "a cultural phenomenon that a lot of people can relate to, but not everyone," Howard says.
"Parenthood touches us all in one form or another," and the movie "still remains the most personal film that I was ever involved in. Right at that moment in time, we were at the apex of our parental responsibilities," he says of his co-producers, "and developing that movie was kind of group-therapy sessions inspired by things we'd experienced."
Katims says the show, like the movie, "comes from the point of view of four adult siblings, and branches out to their children, spouses and parents."
But the new version strikes a tone different from the movie. "There were emotional stories, but the movie was more of a comedy, and this is more of a drama with humor in it. My favorite thing in movies and TV is those moments when you find yourself laughing and then getting emotional at the same time."
The basic structure is familiar. The series opens as Sarah Braverman (Lauren Graham), a struggling single mom, moves home to her family in Berkeley, Calif.: parents Zeek and Camille (Craig T. Nelson and Bonnie Bedelia), workaholic sister Julia (Erika Christensen), slacker brother Crosby (Dax Shepard) and oldest sibling Adam (Peter Krause).
There are a few contemporary twists. Like Gil Buckman, the character played by Martin, Adam confronts his son's emotional issues, but here the son has been diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, a mild form of autism. And corporate attorney Julia is married to a stay-at-home dad.
Graham wasn't looking to do another family drama after her long run on Gilmore Girls but had rejected several sitcom roles.
"I thought this world was so engaging, and I liked that this person was at the dramatic time of being lost," she says. In early episodes, Sarah is "trying to get a job, trying to date somebody who's inappropriate, trying to move out of her family's house, and she's having a tough time."
Though her role as Gilmore's Lorelai had a " theatrical quality," Parenthood is "telling a story in silences and behavior, and this messy family reality is something I felt wasn't out there."
Parenthood has had its share of behind-the-scenes drama. The show was postponed to midseason when co-star Maura Tierney required treatment for breast cancer. She later exited entirely and was replaced by Graham, forcing producers to reshoot much of the pilot episode.
Katims recognizes the challenges of getting big ratings for family dramas, and in remaking old movies or TV shows. (Recent attempts such as Eastwick and Melrose Place have been failures.)
Parenthood is "a title that people recognize, but it's been a long time" since the film was released, he says. "At least a large portion of the audience won't be intimately connected to it. The bigger challenge would be a direct comparison. I don't want the audience to say, 'Peter Krause is playing Steve Martin.' I want them to just enjoy the show."