The Arty Semite

Why TV Writing Is Like Parenthood

By Dorri Olds

  • Print
  • Share Share

Writer and showrunner Jason Katims is best known for his rich and realistic characters, and for a long list of television credits including “My So-Called Life,” “Boston Public,” and “Friday Night Lights,” which earned him a Primetime Emmy Award. On February 22 he premieres a new TV series on NBC called “About a Boy” and on February 27 his long running hit show “Parenthood” returns for a new season. And Katims also just finished a stint as keynote speaker at the Dad 2.0 Summit in New Orleans. The Arty Semite caught up with the assiduous Katims for an exclusive interview.

Dorri Olds: What is your new show about?

Jason Katims: “About a Boy” is based on the book and the movie. It’s about this guy Will [David Walton] who’s in his early thirties but hasn’t grown up. He’s a womanizer, plays video games, and loves his single life. Then Will meets this quirky kid, Marcus, a 12-year-old boy who looks up to Will like a father, like a god, like an everything.

What is Minnie Driver’s role?

Max’s single mom Fiona, who is kind of a hippie but also overprotective and controlling. We’re almost halfway done shooting the first season. It’s been fun already because during the pilot episode, where the three first meet, the adults are both loggerheads. As Marcus [Benjamin Stockham] works his way into Will’s life, the adults develop a sort of mutual respect. It’s incredibly charming.

What is the key to creating so many shows that have a cult-like following?

I’m in a cult myself.

What?

No, I’m kidding. I like to think it’s because you connect to the characters. Many times, viewers have come to me and said the characters are part of their lives, like family.

How did you get involved with the Dad 2.0 Summit?

I was invited by Dove Men+Care to talk about positive and realistic portrayals of fathers on TV and the changing landscape of what being a dad looks like. Men’s roles are being redefined from where we were a generation ago.

What’s the most difficult part of being a dad?

You have a picture of what parenting is going to be like and then you realize that the picture you had is not reality. You’re thrown curveballs all the time. In our case, our curveball was dealing with a child with special needs. My son has Asperger’s, like Max Burkholder [Max Braverman] in “Parenthood.” You don’t think about something like that before you have a kid. It was so unexpected and very challenging. My wife and I had to work hard to forge a connection with our son. At first you think you’re dealing with the hardest thing but then find out that others are dealing with something else. Everybody is thrown curveballs.

One audience member at Dad 2.0 tweeted a quote from you: “Write what you’re scared about.” Can you explain?

I was talking about making decisions on what to include in the “Parenthood” storyline. I had a lot of hesitation about taking on the difficult issues of Asperger’s and breast cancer. I didn’t know whether the autism storyline was going to be too specialized for a broadcast show. I thought people might not be able to relate to it, but the opposite happened. People were drawn into that storyline right at the beginning when the show launched. Taking a chance on stories like that has resulted in a very powerful thing. I am able to tap in and write with a lot of passion on issues that are very meaningful to me. Things I deal with on a day-to-day basis. What I’ve learned from that is that it’s good to take chances as a writer. Not just go with what you know.

Many writers experience periods of depression. Have you?

You get bummed, absolutely. One show I was working on got cancelled. After the show I got very sick. I couldn’t get out of bed for days and didn’t get better so I went to the doctor. He examined me but said, “There is nothing wrong with you.” He said, “Sometimes after finishing a big project, people can get overwhelmed or depressed.” He asked if anything like that had happened to me. I knew I was really sick and it wasn’t just psychological. I thought what the doctor said was ridiculous. But, when I got into my car, suddenly a veil lifted and I felt totally fine. That’s when I realized I was physically and mentally exhausted and mourning the loss of that show.

Writers often experience rejection but it seems like you don’t. Have you ever?

I started as a playwright in New York and struggled for years before I came to work for television. That was a seven-year course in rejection. I’ve had a lucky run but getting on the air and staying on is against the odds no matter who you are. Ask any TV writer and they’ll tell you that. That’s part of the drill and you have to accept that not everything works the way you want it to or the way you planned.

Like parenthood?

[Laughs] Definitely.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Television, Parenthood, Jason Katims, Interviews, About a Boy

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.