Thursday, February 25, 2010

New NBC show "Parenthood" to feature child character with Asperger's

From The Northwestern:

Long before becoming a movie star, Bryce Dallas Howard inspired a movie.

She did it in the most direct way – by throwing up on her father, on a plane. That led to “Parenthood,” which her dad is now turning into a series that's crucial to NBC's comeback attempt.

“It's probably the most personal film ... I've been involved with,” Ron Howard said.

And it started with a 1985 flight with his wife and their daughters – twin babies and Bryce, then 4.

“I proudly thought, as kind of a forward-looking, progressive kind of dad, that she might like to try this appetizer sushi,” he recalled. “She was game, took one bite – and projectile-vomited all over my shirt.”

This was in the first hour of a 17-hour trip. “It turned out to be sort of the flight from Hell. We had 25 pieces of checked luggage …. And I thought, 'When and how did this happen to me?'”

He had been the portrait of youth – Opie on “The Andy Griffith Show,” a perpetual teen-ager in “American Graffiti” and “Happy Days.” Now he had fresh layers of vomit and daddy duties.

“It's both funny and it's painful and it's profound,” Howard said. “And we all experience it. And the idea for the movie was born.”

His “Parenthood” movie came out in 1989, with a mega-cast – Steve Martin, Mary Steenburgen, Keanu Reeve, Joaquin Phoenix, Tom Hulce, Martha Plimpton and more. That became a 1990 NBC show that tried to pack 15 actors (including Leonardo DiCaprio and David Arquette) into a half-hour situation comedy. “That was just misguided,” Howard said.

Then, somehow, the whole thing was revived two decades later.

By then, Bryce had become a movie star (“The Village,” two “Twilight” films) and her dad had become an Oscar-winner (“A Beautiful Mind”). Teamed with Brian Grazer, he has a company that's drawn raves for TV 's “24,” “Friday Night Lights,” “Sports Night,” “Felicity” and “Arrested Development.”

Then came the surprise: Jason Katims, the “Friday Night Lights” producer, wanted to try another “Parenthood” series, this time as an hourlong comedy-drama.

His pilot film leaned heavily to the drama side, as four sibling faced crises. Sarah (Maura Tierney) had two kids, a deadbeat ex-husband and no money. Adam (Peter Krause) learned that his brainy son has Asperger's Syndrome. Julia (Erika Christensen) tried to do too much, as a big-time lawyer and a mom; Crosby (Dax Shepard) tried to do too little, avoiding commitment until it suddenly confronted him.

NBC scheduled the show for fall, then pulled it because Tierney was busy with breast-cancer treatment. As that continued, she decided not to return; Lauren Graham (“Gilmore Girls”) was cast.

“It just kind of happened really quickly,” Graham said. “I wasn't expecting to (do) a show right now.”

And it triggered other changes, Katims said. “Lauren brings … this incredible humor, We decided, since we were going back and shooting so much anyway, … to lighten the tone.”

That has continued in other episodes, he said. “We've found more and more humor in this.”

That's typical of all parenthood, said Howard, who now has four grown children. “It may not feel funny at the time, but there's a light at the end of the tunnel.”

That's even true amid such major problems as Asperger's, a form of autism which involves obsessiveness and social clumsiness. Katims took that from his situation with his own son, 13.

“It's an entire web of relationships,” said Krause, who plays the dad of the struggling kid. “That's what makes family comedies and family dramas work – whether it's … “The Waltons” (or) “The Simpsons.”

They eventually show that there can be joy amid pain, heartache and even an awful plane ride.