Despite CBS rolling out two sitcoms that are both inspired by real-life events, the creative teams behind “The Neighborhood” and “Happy Together” insist family dynamics, rather than topical elements, will be at the core of both shows.
“We aren’t a show that’s like, ‘This week, ‘The Neighborhood’ takes on ‘this issue.’ I don’t think you ever teach anyone anything by telling them, by proselytizing, by poking and saying, ‘This is what you should think,’” “The Neighborhood” showrunner Jim Reynolds said at the Paley Fall TV Preview event Wednesday. “It’s about individuals, it’s not about black and white. … I’m a big believer in you win hearts, and then you change minds.”
“The Neighborhood” is based on Reynolds’ own experience of moving into a historically black neighborhood in Pasadena, California, and learning about local issues that were new to him. The show centers around patriarch Calvin Butler, played by Cedric the Entertainer, who isn’t all that happy as white neighbors (Max Greenfield and Beth Behrs) move into his all-black neighborhood.
Cedric told Variety that he had a hand in determining the tone of his character. He compared Calvin to classic TV dads like Archie Bunker or George Jefferson who were set in their ways because of their age, and said he didn’t want his character’s objection to the neighbors to be purely from a race standpoint.
“The idea that I rejected them simply because they were white, I was trying to get [the writers] to understand that wasn’t really where the person comes from,” Cedric said. “People don’t want change, they want you to understand the rules of which they see how it goes. It’s not just because you’re different. … I needed a complex line in the sand that being white blurs that, that helps us to tell more complex, interesting stories about culture and diversity.”
Tichina Arnold, who plays Calvin’s wife Tina, said the show “is more about having two families from two different backgrounds, finding common ground and learning about each other.”
Similarly, “Happy Together” executive producer Ben Winston was inspired by his experience when then-One Direction member Harry Styles moved in with him and his wife for what was supposed to be a few weeks but became “on and off, 18 months to two years.” However, Winston said during the “Happy Together” added that “very little” of the series was based in reality and his real story was just used for license to create a story about the three characters becoming a family.
“Yes of course it’s about a pop star living in the attic but actually that wouldn’t sustain. … It’s a premise that we’ve made into a beautiful show that’s about what’s it like to be in a happy marriage,” Winston said. “It’s about marrying your best friend and it’s about connection and how you grow a little bit older together.”
In the show, a 30-something couple, played by Damon Wayans, Jr. and Amber Stevens West, has their quiet life turned upside down when pop star Cooper moves in. Felix Mallard, who plays Cooper, told Variety that plot-wise the pop star element does lend itself to “extreme places,” where his character could either go off to college or embark on a world tour.
Executive producers Tim McAuliffe and Austen Earl told Variety that Styles has visited the set and was helpful, but they were careful not to act out “the versions of the true story that happened in that house.”
“I get so worried that people won’t give it a chance, they won’t watch it because they think it’s silly and a kid playing electric guitar on a couch. And trust me, I would be the exact same way,” McAuliffe said. “But with this cast and this group of people, and the writers, it’s much more special than that. … People think, coming to the show, that … there’s nowhere to go with it. And for us, it’s endless.”
“The Neighborhood” and “Happy Together” both premiere Oct. 1 on CBS.