Leaders from New York’s community of autism service orgs gathered Tuesday night at the Museum of Arts and Design for the premiere of SundanceTV’s “The A Word,” a warm and funny drama that depicts a British family coming to grips with their 5-year-old son’s diagnosis.
“It really is a beautiful piece of television,” said Joel Stillerman, president of original programming and development for SundanceTV and AMC.
The series, which bows July 13, hails from Keshet International and Fifty Fathoms. “A Word” aired earlier this year on the BBC to much acclaim. It’s based on the Israeli series “Yellow Peppers.”
“It is so universal,” said Alon Shtruzman, the Los Angeles-based CEO of Keshet International. “We are proud of this important work.”
David Remnick, New Yorker editor and board member of the non-profit New York Collaborates for Autism, moderated a post-screening discussion with “A Word” creator Peter Bowker, NYCA president Ilene Lainer and Eli Gottlieb, author of the recent novel “Best Boy,” which also deals with autism.
Bowker, a season British TV scribe whose credits include “Blackpool” (adapted by CBS as “Viva Laughlin”), said the 14 years he spent as a schoolteacher prepared him well to tell the story of 5-year-old Joe. The boy’s loving parents struggle to acknowledge that his sweet-natured behavioral quirks are signs that he is on the autism spectrum.
Being asked to adapt “Yellow Peppers” for British and American audiences “gave me permission to use all the information I’d had stored for 25 years,” Bowker said.
For the crucial role of Joe, producers auditioned more than 250 kids, boys and girls, through open casting calls. Actor Max Vento had the mix of innocence and sensitivity required for the show.
“I wanted to give the audience some sense of Joe’s experience,” Bowker said. The music-obsessed Joe lives in his head under headphones and yet “he’s acutely aware of the emotional turmoil around him.”
Among those in attendance at the screening were AMC/SundanceTV president Charlie Collier, writer Gay Talese and NBC’s Al Roker.
(Pictured: Charlie Collier, Peter Bowker, Ilene Lanier, David Remnick and Eli Gottlieb)