Parenthood started out as a successful film from Academy Award-winners Ron Howard and Brian Grazer in 1989, went on to be a sitcom featuring Leonardo DiCaprio in 1990 and is now returning as a one-hour drama, premiering on NBC on March 2nd.
From Friday Night Lights executive producer Jason Katims, this new series re-imagines and updates the production to introduce audiences to the very large, very colorful and imperfect Braverman family, played by Craig T. Nelson, Bonnie Bedelia, Lauren Graham, Peter Krause, Monica Potter, Dax Shepard and Erika Christensen, among others.
While at the Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour to promote the series, executive producer Ron Howard explained that he was initially hesitant about revisiting a project that he truly cherishes, but that he realized it’s ultimately about parenting and being part of a family, which is universal to everyone. He also updated the status of the Arrested Development film, which he plans to narrate, as well as the development of the Dan Brown film The Lost Symbol and Cowboys and Aliens.
Check out what he had to say after the jump:
Question: How did this show come about? This show comes out of a movie that was made in 1989, and it was also a 1990-1991 TV series. How did it happen that this would get another shot now?
Ron: It was Jason Katims’ idea, originally. Jason does a spectacular job on Friday Night Lights, which is a movie that we were very proud of, and he came to Brian Grazer and I and wanted to talk about Parenthood. In our little pre-conversation, frankly we were scratching our heads. Parenthood is a project that I really cherish. It’s a great memory. It was a great creative experience. To this day, it’s probably the most personal film or story that I’ve ever really been involved with. And so, it’s something that I hold near and dear.
We had tried once to do sort of a sitcom version of it that was just misguided. It didn’t work and, in my mind, it didn’t live up to the potential of all the stories and characters, as they existed in the movie. So, the first question that we asked of Jason was, “Well, why do you need Parenthood? You’re a great writer. You can develop your own family.” And he made an argument for why the foundation of that family worked.
It’s about parenting. Ultimately, it’s about the unbelievable ups and downs of parenting, the absurdity of it, the pain of it and also, significantly to me, the nobility of it. But, it’s also just about being responsible and being in a family. That always creates great suspense and great drama, and that was the thing that Jason started talking about. And we felt that he could take this idea that meant so much to Brian and I, this idea, and bring it forward to today, in a way that was compelling.
As a creative person, it’s unbelievably gratifying to see that an idea that was born 20-some years ago, yielded something that we were all proud of then and has evolved into something that I think can be so entertaining, so impactful and is just already so beautifully executed, based on the writing and the incredible cast of the show. I’m incredibly proud of what it already is.
How is this series different from the original film version?
Ron: I think what Jason is doing with the show is depicting, in particular ways, today’s problems that we can relate to in ways that are either hilarious and absurd or dangerous, frightening and emotional.
Are there any economic challenges in doing a show with this level of talent?
Ron: It’s very important to Brian and I that the show be great and that it have this kind of cast. It’s just incredible that everybody is just completely in stride, making these incredibly nuanced, entertaining choices, left and right.
Hollywood loves to categorize directors, but you’ve done a diversity of films and television. How would you categorize yourself, as a director?
Ron: A long time ago, I stopped trying to look at projects as genre exercises. Early on in my career, when I had basically been a sitcom actor for all of these years and I made my first movies and they were comedies and they were successes, it was very important for me to stretch, and Parenthood was one of those films. Even though it was a comedy, there was a great deal of authentic drama in the piece as well. In the last 10 or 12 years, I’ve just looked for ideas and great characters that I relate to and that I think I can offer something to the audience, and I no longer look at them as experiments or genre exercises at all.
How hands-on are you going to be with this show? Are you going over every script? Do you give notes?
Ron: Truthfully, Jason came in. Brian and I knew that this was a fantastic opportunity to let this idea grow with Jason’s voice. I’ve been reading scripts. I was thrilled by the pilot. I’ve been a part of creative conversations. I met with Jason and the director, a couple times. But, really, it’s Jason’s show and it’s this cast’s show. I’m a big fan.
Being a head honcho, from your point of view of the state of the television landscape, is it easy for you get shows developed?
Ron: It’s always a challenge in movies and in television, probably more so today than ever. However, under Jason’s auspices, this has gone very smoothly. We just keep trying to find projects, both in movies and in television, that feel like they are breaking new ground and that they are doing something that entertains the audience, in a way that makes Brian and I proud. This show falls into that category.
Can you talk about making this family show versus a more absurdist family view with Arrested Development?
Ron: They’re very different kinds of families with a very different tone, and yet what entertains in these kinds of stories is the responsibility that people have, in terms of a connection they feel. Either they’re living up to the responsibility, they’re failing in their responsibility, they’re trying their best and failing, they’re stumbling around and remarkably succeeding, or in some sort of noble way they’re really coming through. And they keep you in suspense, whether it’s a broad tone, like Arrested Development, or something more subtle.
Are you surprised at the passion people have for Arrested Development, so long after it went off the air?
Ron: I’m gratified by it. From the very first conversations with Mitch Hurwitz, I was passionate about it and always frustrated that the broad audiences weren’t there to really sustain it on network television. But, it’s been incredibly gratifying. You’re always a little surprised when something really takes off.
What’s the status of the movie now?
Ron: Mitch Hurwitz is working on a story on script. He would direct it. Everyone is hoping. We’re not going to go through with anything we don’t think is up to the standards.
Everyone is chomping at the bit for it.
Ron: Me too. I’m chomping too.
Would it pick up where the show left off?
Ron: No clue. I have no clue as to who’s in it or what the storyline is, but every time I get together with Mitch, he gives me these fragments and they’re all hilarious.
Would you still narrate the film?
Ron: Oh, yeah. They couldn’t stop me. They couldn’t hold me back.
Since you clearly love TV so much, would you want to guest star on anything right now?
Ron: I’d certainly be open to it, whether it was Parenthood or something else. But, first and foremost, I consider my day job to be producing and directing the films for Imagine.
What would be your dream guest spot?
Ron: I don’t know. I just don’t think of myself as an actor much at all, so I don’t lust after any particular roles.
What did Roger Corman teach you about filmmaking, at your earliest beginnings?
Ron: I think the most important thing really was that you could take very personal ideas and present them to an audience in entertaining ways. Logistics aside, I think it’s about entertaining an audience and somehow still getting a point of view that’s personal to you on screen as well.
Are you working on the third Dan Brown movie, The Lost Symbol?
Ron: It’s just beginning. It’s really at the earliest stages of discussions.
But, that’s definitely going to happen?
Ron: Oh, nothing is definite.
So, when you get the script, you have the option of doing it?
Ron: It’s the usual development process that you always go through, which is making sure you have a movie you believe in.
And you’re also a producer on Cowboys and Aliens. Is that something you’re actively involved in?
Ron: Yeah, I have been, along with Steven [Spielberg] and Brian [Grazer].
You do people stories, but you’re not opposed to using special effects, here and there. With the technology that has overtaken the industry, what is the one bit of technology that has changed the face of the industry?
Ron: 3-D is a truly exciting possibility. Whether that’s going to be something that sustains our interest, I’m not certain, but I think it will. I think that digital effects have changed the industry. The fact that filmmakers can envision something and actually get it on screen, almost 100% of what they ever imagined it could be, and it’s photo real, is something that you simply couldn’t say 20 years ago, or even 10 years ago.