Emily Kapnek is no stranger to creating family comedies for ABC. Her latest, “Splitting Up Together,” comes about four years after the Alphabet pulled her previous one (the Karen Gillan-John Cho starrer “Selfie”) from the schedule midway through its first season run.
“Network comedy is cutthroat,” Kapnek admitted to Variety during the Television Critics Assn. press tour in Pasadena, Calif. “I know that, having gone through it. I don’t think you can ever approach it as ‘What would work better?’ I think you have to stay focused on the material and doing good work.”
“Splitting Up Together” also comes from executive producer Dean Holland, who recently worked on the non-traditonal romcom “Love” for Netflix.
Streaming services often are able to make multi-year deals for new series before even seeing a pilot, while broadcast nets still go through the traditional development process, even when looking for products to launch outside of the usual fall-midseason model.
“If you really believe in the show that you’re doing, and you think this is your footprint and what you like,” Holland said, the ultimate outlet doesn’t matter. Holland noted that both he and Kapnek felt they were “making the show they wanted to make” with “Splitting Up Together” for ABC.
Kapnek added: “I think ABC is kind of the s— for family comedy. And when you have a family comedy, it feels like a network show. There’s a version of this show that could have been a cable show or a Netflix show — a darker show — but we didn’t do that story. We did a story that kind of belonged on ABC.”
Kapnek feels ABC’s “instincts” for family comedy make it the best at such a genre, and she cites the importance of their time slot, despite audiences finding series in delayed viewing due to the Peak TV era.
“I wish it didn’t matter,” Kapnek said of broadcast ratings. “All of my shows have suffered because of the importance on that, in terms of the overnights and that conversation. I wish it was driving as much as it really, truly is — still.”
Although Kapnek admitted the importance of live and even same day ratings are not as important as they used to be, she said the demo and the number is still meaningful but all she can hope is that there’s “enough there, in terms of a live audience, that gives the network the confidence to stand behind the show and the story and the characters.”
Calling “Splitting Up Together” “the most grounded show” she’s done, Kapnek said that she felt there was an opportunity for a show like hers not only on the network but “in the climate right now.”
“I had an appetite for a show that was a little more emotional,” Kapnek said. “There’s some really honest talk about what happens in a marriage and what makes people lose that for each other, and when it goes, they’re just what, roommates? There’s sex, talk about sex, talk about what happened in their sex lives. There’s some provocative stories that you don’t typically see.”
In the pilot, married couple Lena (Jenna Fischer) and Martin (Oliver Hudson) announce that after 12 years of marriage, they are getting divorced — but will still continue to share the house and trade off weeks caring for their three children. Kapnek was quick to note that although the show is a half-hour comedy, they are not shying away from “things that are sad.”
Given the potential of a broadcast audience, Kapnek stressed the importance of liking and rooting for her characters, which she thought would help not only the conversation around the show but also give the audience a chance to take the lessons and imply them inward to reflect on their own lives and relationships.
“The more we examine what went wrong in the marriage and you see that on display, it’s not as simple as them getting back together. What was wrong? Did they fix it? If not, it’s going to be the same s— and maybe they don’t belong together,” Kapnek said. “[They’re] taking steps to remedy the things where they were told what was wrong in the marriage. Lena’s our bigger, fundamental ‘Can I be someone other than who I am or do I need to look for someone who just accepts me as I am?’ It’s a big, juicy question we see her grappling with, and that’s a big, juicy question we explore.”
“Splitting Up Together” premieres on Mar. 27 at 9:30pm on ABC.