TFT Exclusive: Interview with Parenthood Showrunner and Emmy Winner Jason Katims
Jason Katims is having a very busy month. His show, Parenthood (Tuesdays, 10pm/9c), which he is the executive-producer and showrunner of, started its third season on NBC on September 13th. Then five days later, in a surprising upset worthy of the Dillon Panthers, he took home the Emmy for Best Writing for a Drama Series for penning the series finale of NBC and DirectTV’s Friday Night Lights. Katims beat out the critics’ favorite for the Emmy – Mad Men’s Matthew Weiner, who nearly every pundit predicted was a shoo-in to win that award. Now, Parenthood is three episodes into its new year and is one of the few bright spots on the always-struggling NBC’s Fall schedule in the ratings category. In this exclusive interview for The Faster Times, Katims talks Season 3 and spills a few secrets on what’s to come…
The Faster Times: First off, I just wanted to say congratulations on your Emmy win!
Jason Katims: Thanks very much, thank you. I appreciate it.
TFT: On Parenthood, you have one of the hardest showrunning jobs in television in that, with its sprawling cast of Bravermans, you often have to juggle four to five storylines a week just to fit everyone in. What is it like for you and the writers writing for a show that has fifteen principle characters?
JK: Well, it’s both very exciting and on the other hand it’s a challenge. What’s great about it is we have such an incredibly strong cast that we are able to kind of write anything for them and you know they’re going to be able to deliver. In that case, you have a tremendous amount of freedom as you’re breaking stories and writing scripts. On the other hand, because it is such a large cast, there is that challenge to continue to service all the characters and, as you go through episode to episode, to try to figure out the mathematics of how to keep everybody involved. Sometimes I need to consciously create a storyline where you’re pairing different characters in a very deliberate way just to try to find ways to get everybody in the episode.
TFT: NBC recently reduced your Season 3 episode order from 22 episodes to 16. How far into the writing and production process of the season did that notice come in, and how does it now affect your plans for the season as a whole?
JK: They actually didn’t reduce our order from 22 to 16, they ordered 16 to begin with. I think somebody else heard it that way and I think because people assume that once a season gets picked up for a third season, then they assume that it’s going to be for 22 since we did 22 episodes in the past. I think this was part of one of the things that [NBC’s new president of programming] Bob Greenblatt is doing to try to reinvigorate the network. That is to, rather than have one show try to last the whole year from September through May, to have us come in and do 16 episodes and have them air as consecutively as humanly possible and then have another show come into that time slot for the later part of the year. I think that was the thinking behind that. So we weren’t actually reduced, all along we were breaking for stories for 16 episodes. ***
TFT: The kid actors on the show have been a real find, especially Max Burkholder for his spot-on, nuanced portrayal of a child with Asperger’s, his story being kind of a through-line for the series in that it starts in the Pilot and continues to now. Though that takes a lot of screen time away from the other children, especially Miles Heizer’s Drew and Tyree Brown’s Jabbar. Will either of them be getting a significant story this year?
JK: We are definitely trying to find stories for everybody. With Drew we are introducing a love interest for him. There seems to be more stories for him this year which I’m very happy about because I love Miles. And Tyree has a really nice storyline with Max early in the season. In the fourth episode (airing tonight, October 4), he has a scene with Jabbar and Crosby that is probably one of my favorite scenes so far this year. We’re trying to, as I said earlier, service all the characters and trying to find that balance but we’re definitely trying to give more to some of the characters that haven’t yet gotten their due.
TFT: Adam and Crosby’s team-up venture into the recording industry seems like there could be lots of potential for story to come out of it. Will this be a season long arc, and what sorts of things can we be looking forward to in their partnership?
JK: I’m very excited about this story because, first of all, I really think that the relationship between those two brothers is one of my favorite relationships in the show, and it really sort of dates back to the pilot episode. I thought that was a very strong part of the pilot, and one of the core relationships on the show. One thing that I like about the music studio is literally the fact that it puts them together to do scenes. I also think it’s very interesting to see these two very different types of people enter into a business together and try to make it work and I think that’s really fun. I think there’s a lot of humor to get out of that. I think it’s moving to watch them try to make a go of it. Also, it’s fun to have the opportunity once in a while to bring in musicians to play. We just shot an episode where Cee-lo Green guest stars, which will be on the sixth episode of the show.
TFT: That’s another thing I loved about Friday Night Lights, was the music selection for the show.
JK: Thank you.
TFT: Joy Bryant is terrific as Jasmine, and Mae Whitman incredible as Amber. With Jasmine and Crosby split up for now and Amber moving out of the house, how will you continue to incorporate their character’s stories into the show this season?
JK: As far as Joy goes, I think that what we wanted to explore this year was… we’re always trying to look at what are interesting and current things to look at and to write about. We have tried to tackle the Asperger’s storyline; we also have a family with a stay at home dad and we’ve dealt with various things like that are interesting and current and what kind of hopefully taps into what people are thinking about and going through in their lives. We thought it interesting to look at co-parenting, to look at it and see what it was like for a couple who aren’t together to parent a child and what the challenges of that are. There’s a lot for Jasmine to do this season as Crosby and Jasmine are trying to figure out how to hopefully find a comfortable way of co-parenting, and have it not affect Jabbar in a negative way. We’re excited about the stories that are coming up for the two of them.
As far as Mae Whitman goes, I agree; I love Mae and what she brings to the role, and we just went with something that I tried to do with Friday Night Lights and that I’m trying to continue to do here. On FNL, after the third season of the show, suddenly all these characters were graduating and going on to do other things and even though it was difficult to do that, we had to face reality, and the reality is that Amber graduated. We felt like, well, what would she do? What would Amber do? We didn’t really see a lot of interesting, different stories for her to stick around and stay there. We liked the idea that she would leave right away. I think it does present interesting stories both for her Mom, for Sarah, having to sort of let go of her and deal with her moving away, and for Amber to set out on her own and what it’s like to have that first apartment and try to make ends meet, to earn a living and all that. We’re going to try to play that story as realistically as possible. And of course, with her character, even though she’s moving away, the Bravermans have a way of bringing you to come back over a lot. She will definitely continue to be a big part of the show.
TFT: When you juggle all these plotlines every week, characters have to sit on the sidelines or have reduced screentime in order to accommodate for everyone. Unfortunately it seems, none more so than the characters of Julia and Joel. Sam Jaeger in particular seems to be the most underutilized of the adult cast, but he really is great. Will the adoption storyline playing out now be a big story point for them this season?
JK: Yeah, the adoption story is going to be a season long arc. I’m very excited about the story that we’re telling as I think it will actually give them very meaty material to play with over the course of the season.
TFT: You started the season with Kristina already six months pregnant. If the season plays out in real time, when should we expect to see the birth episode, especially with the 16 episodes airing as they are?
JK: I actually think we started with Kristina being seven months pregnant. She will definitely have the baby in the early part of the season.
*** After this interview was conducted, NBC, seeing the positive ratings, ordered an additional two episodes of the show, bringing Parenthood Season 3 up to 18 episodes total.
Parenthood airs Tuesday nights at 10pm on NBC. Seasons 1 and 2 are now available on Netflix Watch Instantly, along with all five seasons of Friday Night Lights.
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