As part of the #MoanaEvent Disney press trip I recently attended, we had the pleasure of going on the set of a couple ABC TV show, including the all-new Speechless. “Maya DiMeo (Minnie Driver) is a mother who is willing to do anything for her family. Her son, JJ (Micah Fowler) has cerebral palsy and she will fight for justice in order to give him what he deserves. From the creators of Fresh Off The Boat, comes Speechless on ABC.” Speechless airs Wednesday nights at 8:30 PM on ABC and it’s worth giving it a watch!
It’s a show that is not only funny, but heart-warming and poignant at the same time. I love that it’s showing the life of a family with a child with special needs. We need more diversity like this shown in popular media. I remember watching Life Goes On as a kid (for those not familiar – it was a great show about a family in which one of the children had Down Syndrome) and I LOVED that show. But there really hasn’t been a good family tv show since then that features a family with a child with special needs. As a former teacher (who worked in special education for a year), I’m thrilled that this show is in the air! And, it’s quite a labor of love for the show’s writer and executive producer, Scott Silveri. Scott is most well-known for his work on the shows Mad About You and Friends. But this show is quite close to his heart as he said it’s really a “love letter to my mom and dad”, as Scott’s grew up with his brother who has special needs. So, we got to talk with Scott some about the show! The first question asked was then about his family and how they reacted to a show being made based on his family experience growing up. And, he explained that his family has been incredibly supportive of it!
“I made it clear from the beginning to them, as I try to make clear to anybody else, this is not their story. This is not my story or my brother’s story. What’s important to me is to capture a couple of elements about the time we had growing up. And they were very supportive about that. I feel like you can take whatever challenge is thrown your way and wallow in it or turn to something. You can curse the heavens or you can band together and make it work. And that’s what my mom did. That’s what my dad did. And I wanted to celebrate that at every turn. I know they don’t have a lot and they’re loud sometimes, but this is intended to be a love letter to my mom and my dad.
I hope that, that comes across. It’s not a documentary about my childhood, but it really is meant to be a loving depiction of the choices that I celebrate. The great thing that I got back from them when I first showed it to them was not flattery or vanity. It was just relief – it’s gonna be a family like ours on TV, and that’s fantastic.”
Did you have to make any specific changes from real life to TV family life?
There’s a difference between Micah’s character, JJ, and my brother in real life – my brother’s condition is more is significant. And, I wanted the character to have a lot more back and forth. I just thought in a world where you have six characters in a family, you want a lot more give and take between them. I never wanted that character to seem like a prop. I wanted him to be active, and this made it easier to be active. When I was thinking about the JJ character, the criterion that I kept coming back to is this a character that would exist on TV independent of a disability, independent of the wheelchair. That was the litmus test. If it was simply defined by a wheelchair, that’s telling a story I didn’t wanna tell.
The show has been very widely well-received, so we also talked with Scott about that…
“I was really surprised, frankly, that people gave it a shot and embraced it. And then those who early said this is gettin’ it right. I am wholly, deeply grateful to the people who gave it a shot and didn’t write it off before it aired. We’re talking with people. We’re talking with parents’ of kids like this. We’re talking to kids like this. We’re talking to families. We have a partner in the Cerebral Palsy Foundation where we run ideas by them. We we are doing our homework. I can tell you our hearts are in the right place. We wanna be respectful to the situation and we’re trying to make it funny, too. So, I was hoping that the people would give us the benefit of the doubt, because we’re trying and we’re working. I’m just so relieved how supportive everyone is.”
We also HAD to know more about Micah Fowler. When did you know that Micah Fowler was the perfect actor for this?
“The second I saw the tape. We did a wide search and we took tapes in from all over the country. I saw him (Micah Fowler) and he lights up the screen. He’s funny and so expressive. He doesn’t have the benefit of words, and that’s what the people do – they say words. It’s a challenge for us thinking for the best way for him to express himself without them. It’s a challenge for him making this stuff work, being present in the scene without lines. But he did it from, from Day 1. I’ve been wanting to do a show like this for 20 years, as long as I’ve been doing this, but he was the one that allowed me to do it. It was pretty instant. It was pretty easy. Micah is great!”
And I agree! We actually had the pleasure of meeting Micah and he was amazing – SO grateful as he thanked many of us for coming! He absolutely perfect on the show! We also got to check out the set and meet the rest of the cast! It’s always so interesting being on TV and movie sets, seeing where the magic is made! You see the regular house areas, but then open spaces and all the lights/gadgets/etc all over. I also LOVED meeting Minnie Driver! We didn’t have too much time with her as they were getting ready for some shoots. But, she was so incredibly sweet and down to earth.
She talked with us about normal mom things. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that celebrities are “normal people” too, with normal family stuff going on just like all the rest of us! The kids on the show even popped in for a few minutes! Everyone was so great! You can see why they have good chemistry on the show!
So, be sure to tune into Speechless on ABC Wednesdays 8:30/7:30 CST!
Mason Cook as Ray, stars Kyla Kenedy as Dylan, ABC’s “Speechless” stars Mason Cook as Ray, Kyla Kenedy as Dylan, John Ross Bowie as Jimmy, Minnie Driver as Maya, Micah Fowler as JJ and Cedric Yarbrough as Kenneth. (ABC/Kevin Foley)