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‘The Kids Are Alright’ Boss on Mining ‘All the Possible Permutations’ of Family Relationships

For those who have lived through the 1970s, the shots of rotary phones, Hi-C drinks, and packages of Wonder Bread on ABC’s “The Kids Are Alright” will be a nostalgic sight. The era of hippies and Watergate will be the setting for the comedy that follows the Clearys, a traditional Irish-Catholic family with eight boys who are free to cause ruckus without much supervision.

The series is inspired by the childhood of creator and executive producer Tim Doyle, and Doyle was on hand to talk about the upcoming series during the third day of the annual Paley Fall TV Previews on Saturday. He was joined by stars Michael Cudlitz and Mary McCormack, who play the parents Mike and Peggy, respectively, and Jack Gore, who portrays the overlooked middle child Timmy.

Doyle said the ‘70s setting will serve as a “document of those times” and show audiences a believable depiction of family life during that period. He said working with the network to bring his stories to life was a “painless development process,” and ABC let him keep a lot of the details from his own life, such as the fact that his character is the fifth of eight children and grew up in Los Angeles.

Cudlitz shared that he was onboard for the show right away, because Doyle made it clear that his character was going to be more than just the grumpy dad stereotype.

“Mike’s really multilayered … I knew [Doyle] wasn’t going to try to keep to one aspect of the character,” Cudlitz told Variety. “There is a certain gruffness to him just by the fact that you have to keep it that way to keep a handle on the ship with eight kids, but there’s also a really caring side to him. … He really tries to reach in and connect with his kids. It’s been wonderful.”

Cudlitz also said that family dinners will be the “glue” of the show because they convey the chaos within the household, with the boys arguing with one another and their mother constantly rushing around with plates and never sitting down. Doyle added that with 10 family members, there are plenty of storylines to explore and he is hesitant to add too many other characters.

“I’m trying to stall as long as possible going to the kids’ school, or the dad’s office, or any of that stuff I want to try and keep folding the show in on itself and having the people interact as much as possible,” Doyle said. “What’s it like when Frank and Joey are off on an adventure together? What happens when William gets into a conflict with mom? It’s like trying to get all the possible permutations. If you mix and match all of the characters in different ways, there’s probably already like a thousand variations.”

Even though the series premiere features a heated exchange between eldest son Lawrence (Sam Straley) and his father about Nixon, Doyle said politics won’t be a big part of the show, for the time being. What audiences can look forward to is a Christmas episode — it just might not be a typical one.

“ABC really insisted on having a Christmas episode, so we’ve written one,” Doyle said, though he admitted his preference for the show would be “to have it be endless 1972 summer.”

The Kids Are Alright” premieres Oct. 16 on ABC.

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