Several new television shows made their debut this season, including one called The Kids Are Alright on ABC. The comedy, set in the 1970s, follows the Cleary family. The show is gaining popularity and has even been approved for a full season! On my recent press trip, I was able to go behind-the-scenes and visit the set of The Kids Are Alright. Our The Kids Are Alright set visit was so enjoyable and I’m excited to share that experience with you!
In a working-class neighborhood outside Los Angeles, Mike and Peggy raise eight boisterous boys who live out their days with little supervision. The household is turned upside down when oldest son Lawrence returns home and announces he’s quitting the seminary to go off and “save the world.” Times are changing and this family will never be the same. There are 10 people, three bedrooms, one bathroom and everyone in it for themselves.
New Family Comedy — The Kids Are Alright on ABC
After arriving on set, we had a short introduction with line producer Kris Eber, production designer Michael Whetstone, set decorator Claudette Didul, and actor Caleb Foote (“Eddie Cleary”).
The Kids Are Alright Set Visit — The Cleary House
Then it was time to go to tour the Cleary house. TheThe Kids Are Alright house was recreated based on a house they found in Sherman Oaks.
Whetstone: This house is based on a house that we found for the pilot back in March and I think it was built in 1932. It was very, very small. It was one of the first ranch houses in Studio City or something. And our director loved it tight. He wanted it to feel crowded. Usually, when you go to stage, you say, “Oh, I’m gonna make it 25% bigger for shooting.” We didn’t really do that.
Foote: In most cases, they would expand the set in the recreation of the studio. But, having the tight-knit family is a big part of our show.
With 25 bloggers and working crew crammed into the hallways, that was definitely the feeling we experienced. 🙂 They did build some secret areas into the house for filming equipment though (the bookcase behind the television slides over to fit the camera and a dolly).
The Kids Are Alright is all about nostalgia. It’s about what your grandparents had and the funny things that came with growing up in that era. A lot of research went into filling the home with period-specific decor and furniture. There are times they have to “cheat” to get duplicate items for gags or for things like lampshades which tend to fall apart after 50 years.
Didol: We actually lucked out with a couple of estate sales. We literally took this whole drapery rig right out of the house as is, and it is so fragile that I couldn’t get it dry cleaned and we’re going to just see how long it lasts… But we really do try to do our due diligence, finding things that were from the right period.
The dining room is where most of the action happens so they crew wanted a specific layout of the living room, then dining room, then kitchen. You’ll notice that most of the decor looks like it’s from the 1960s since the family wouldn’t have the money to have the latest 1972-style items. It was most challenging to find furniture for the kitchen including the stove, refrigerator, and even the dressings on the wall though. A kitchen table from that time was particularly hard to find.
The bathroom is full of small details that casual viewers might miss. For example, the soap is made up of a bunch of smaller soap pieces stuck together. Also, there are several original towels all in different colors since it’s unlikely that a household with eight boys keeps a full, uniform set of towels. Cabinets and closets are all “dressed” or fully set up in case anyone needs to open one. There’s a lot happening on set in each room so the attention given to small details like these are amazing!
We then went out to the “fake” backyard. This backyard is only used for scenes shot from inside the house and is not used for any outside scenes. That’s why it’s not a big deal that there are fake trees and the grass is painted on.
The show’s creator, showrunner, and executive producer Tim Doyle then joined us. The Kids Are Alright is based on Doyle’s childhood and he does the narration in each episode. He shares his memories of a time when he and his brothers did all kinds of crazy things and his parent only checked in periodically to make sure they were still all intact.
Doyle: It’s a funny thing. It’s amazing that we all survived that period but some of us didn’t. But all the ones that are here are like, “Oh, yeah, it’s okay. You don’t have to have parental supervision. Let kids run around like feral animals. Let them do whatever they want.” That’s the people who survived talking. There are the other ones and a lot of bad stuff happened but we’re not telling those stories. We’re glossing over those.
We’re not saying don’t be good parents. We’re saying be good to your kids and supervise them. But there was a different way… We’re giving a taste of, as accurately as we can, what we remember it being like.
The Kids Are Alright Set Visit — The Clothes
Moving on to wardrobe with costume designer Susan Michalek, we were able to see a small portion of the massive collection of clothes needed for a show with 10 principal actors. That can sometimes mean about 100 changes (10 per actor) and 1972 clothing for about 275 background actors. There is a lot of research that is done and most outfits are designed to look like hand-me-downs. They also have to keep track of everything since scenes are not shot in order.
Michalek: We need so much that what we really get from is all the rental houses in L.A (Los Angeles). ABC has a costume house, Warner Brothers has a costume house, and then there are some private ones too. There are about eight or ten in L.A. Their buildings are the size of football fields and really high with racks of clothing where we go get most of it.
The actors are pretty easy going about what they wear so fitting them isn’t difficult. The only problem is that most of the clothes are made of polyester and they’re pretty itchy. 😛
Caleb Foote walked around with us on set and told us a bit about his experience on the show. The audition process was fairly long but he finally made the cut. He was ecstatic to hear that Michael Cudlitz and Mary McCormack would be playing his parents. Foote has often been told he looks like Cudlitz. When we talked with Foote a couple weeks ago, they were already filming episode 11 and finish about one episode a week.
Foote: We’re shooting episode eleven right now and then we will read for episode twelve on Thursday. We’ll get the final script Friday and then you memorize it all weekend. Then we start the next episode on Monday. Yeah, it’s just like boom, boom, boom, boom.
At this point, it’s a well-oiled machine and we bump it out pretty quickly. Long hours but it’s the best job. It’s like you go home after a long day of work and you’re like, “That was awesome.” You put in a 12-hour day and you’re like, “I wouldn’t wanna be doing anything else.”
The Kids Are Alright Set Visit — The “Real” Backyard
We caught back up with line producer Kris Eber and then it was off to the “real” backyard. Since so many scenes are shot in the backyard, the crew wanted to make it look more real than what you’d get on a studio set and as good as possible when the kids are filmed there. The 7,000 sq. ft. real backyard was created on a parking lot near the set.
Eber: One of the things that we were trying to do was maintain the realness of the yard. So all of the trees that you see are live trees. The only thing that’s artificial in the yard is the grass. And that had more to do with durability because the crew is working on it all the time. We’ve really gone out of our way to make the fake grass look as real as possible. There’s actually a layer of dirt below the grass that makes it uneven and you’ll see that it’s dirty. We put down sand and dirt to make it look like a yard with the eight boys.
The cornerstone of the yard is a 24-foot podocarpus that weight 30,000 lbs. It’s buried nine feet into the concrete. It’s was pretty interesting to see both sides of that with the treehouse in it.
Our tour concluded with a few points about filming The Kids Are Alright. The approval process for the show went pretty smoothly, as have other aspects of producing the series. One challenge comes from having to juggle shooting schedules due to having five minors on the show. They can only work a few hours a day and that includes education, recreation, eating, and rest. (We ran into some of the kids while walking in the studio lot.)
The Kids Are Alright has found its sweet spot in its relatability. Since the characters and the stories are so specific, people seem to connect with the show for one reason or another.
Eber: You take this very, very specific series of circumstances. It’s set in the 1970s in Southern California. It’s an Irish-Catholic family of ten people with eight boys, seven of them are under eighteen… But, what we found is that it’s incredibly universal in the fact that everybody connects with something. Everybody has that connection. Oh, that was the time I grew up, I’m from Southern California, I’m Irish-Catholic, I have a big family, or whatever… I think the show is incredibly unique in what it has to offer as well. Certainly, I haven’t seen anything on the air that’s like this.
We had so much fun during the set visit. We were also treated to a surprise visit by some of the child actors and Michael Cudlitz himself. Many thanks to the gracious cast and crew who took the time to tour us around and accommodate all our questions!
Watch The Kids Are Alright Tonight!
The Kids Are Alright airs Tuesdays at 8:30|7:30c on ABC. You can also watch/rewatch via streaming (ABC app/ABC.com/Hulu) or On Demand. Here’s the summary of the episode coming on tonight!
“Peggy’s Day Out” – To hide a mess Eddie made, his girlfriend, Wendi, tries to distract Peggy by insisting she take a day off with a fun day out while they take care of the housework. To everyone’s surprise, Peggy accepts the offer and requests Wendi tag along, with the ulterior motive of teaching her a lesson. Meanwhile, Eddie enlists the help of his brothers to clean up and keep Mike out of the house while Wendi and Peggy are out. Elsewhere, Pat introduces Timmy to his secret dog on “The Kids Are Alright,” TUESDAY, NOV. 13 (8:31-9:00 p.m. EST), on The ABC Television Network, streaming and on demand.
- https://twitter.com/TheKidsABC (#TheKidsAreAlright + #ABCTVEvent)
I was invited on an all-expense paid media trip as a guest of Disney and ABC. All opinions are my own.