PASADENA, Calif. — NBC's Growing Up Fisher is another family comedy, but there's a difference: the father, Mel Fisher (J.K. Simmons), is blind (pictured).
It's not arbitrary. Fisher, which premieres following Olympics coverage on Feb. 23 (10:30 p.m. ET/PT), is based on the childhood of series creator DJ Nash. It moves to its regular Tuesday slot (9:30 p.m. ET/PT) on Feb. 25.
"My dad went blind when he was 11 and hid his blindness (to) pretty much everyone outside the family" until he and his wife divorced and he got a guide dog, Nash said Sunday at the Television Critics Association winter press tour. A scene where the father cuts down a tree with a chainsaw is based on his own experiences.
Fisher's premise is not a gimmick, said executive producer Jason Bateman, who provides the voiceover for Mel's son, Henry, looking back on his youth. "It's his true story. Cynicism, be gone," he said.
The show, which is set in the present day, looks at the Fisher family after Mel and his wife, Joyce (Jenna Elfman), decide to divorce. They remain "amazing parents" to teenage daughter Katie (Ava Deluca-Verley) and 11-year-old son Henry (Eli Baker).
There were challenges to the situation at the time, Nash said, but "looking back, I wouldn't change a thing."
Simmons, who is not blind, said he had help from Nash, a visually impaired consultant and another consultant in learning how to play a man who can't see.
"Your whole life is naturally fixed on picked-up movement, so it's a simple case of throwing your eyes out of focus," he said. "The main things I learned (were) all the other bits of behavior, how you handle things, what you do with your hands, how you interact physically with other people."
Although Mel's blindness may stand out initially, Nash said that's only one aspect of the character's personality and one element of the family's story.
Some viewers may "see the first thing about Mel is that he's blind. My dad being blind is like the 17th thing wrong with him. He's stubborn. He hugs too much. He's a lawyer. There's a lot of craziness going on over there," he said. "I don't want this to be every visually impaired person's story. ... We're trying to tell Henry's perspective of what that was like and how it informs who he is as a father today."