With Jason Ritter off romancing Alexis Bledel on Fox’s Us & Them and Matt Lauria thisclose to closing a deal to return to Parenthood, one of the last remaining questions surrounding the NBC drama’s Season 5 is: What’s the status of Ray Romano‘s polarizing (kinda) homewrecker Hank?
“We’re currently discussing it,” executive producer David Hudgins shared with TVLine at the recent ATX Television Festival. “I love Ray Romano and thought he was so good on the show last year…. He’s great in that part and he works hard. He doesn’t just show up and do his [scenes]; he actually researched the character.”
Team Mark some fans didn’t take too kindly to Hank at first, Hudgins explained that from a behind-the-scenes standpoint, Romano’s appeal was undeniable.
“It was so interesting because we wrote the character [of Hank], then Ray was cast and then we shot [his first] scene. But the first time we actually saw him on-screen — and I think it was with Lauren Graham — we said, ‘Oh my gosh. Wow. This is watchable… This is kind of great!’”
All that said, the EP promised that Sarah’s Flavor of the Season will not be the driving force of her storyline this time around.
“We definitely want to set Sarah on a path,” Hudgins noted. “Her story last year — and arguably the year before — was about a lot of things, I thought; I actually feel like Sarah Braverman’s story really has always been, ‘I’m a single mother trying to figure out my way with a husband that wasn’t really there and hasn’t really helped.’ But just naturally, because of the way the story’s developed, there was a triangle last year with Hank and Mark.”
Noting that while said love story was “good and interesting” and created necessary conflict, “There is a very conscious effort on our part to set Sarah on a path that will really let her shine — and in conjunction with that, she may still have some love interests.”
“The thing is,” he continued, “Lauren is so good at that stuff — she’s so great at acting those [love] stories — that it’s hard not to want to tell them. But your question is good because we really are thinking about ‘What is Sarah’s story now?’ And what’s interesting about her [in Season 5] is that her kids are gone. If her identity before was as a single mother, well, Amber’s been out of the nest and now Drew’s out of the nest. What would that mean for a woman like her? How is she going to find herself? What’s she going to do?
“Sarah is going to have a great arc this year,” Hudgins again assured, adding with a laugh, “and it isn’t going to be completely about her love life.”
Stupid wordplay time! The Revolution will be televised again, things are looking Grimm for NBC, congrats on your Parenthood NBC, and uhhh, something about Law & Order: SVU and Chicago Fire. NBC has renewed all five of those shows for new seasons. All of them will get 22-episode runs for 2013-2014, which is particularly good news for the perennial bubble show Parenthood, which hasn’t had a full season since its sophomore year in 2010-2011.
Though many of these shows were considered bubble riders, none of the renewals are too surprising. NBC’s bar was always going to be low given its current wasteland of successful programming, and the network needs SOME returning dramas for its 2013-2014 schedule. The numbers these shows are putting up wouldn’t've given them a chance five years ago, but hey, this is the new era of network television! Glaringly absent is Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal, which has received enough critics’ praise and steady ratings in its early going to warrant at least a long look for a second season. Deception and Smash will almost certainly be canceled.
NBC says this was the drama round, so there’s no word yet on Parks & Recreation, Community, Whitney, Guys with Kids, or anything else I may have forgotten. Look for those announcements to trickle out in the coming weeks.
Parenthood showrunner Jason Katims, along with 12 of the beloved NBC family drama’s cast members, graced the stage at PaleyFest 2013 Thursday night to discuss high hopes for a fifth season, who’ll be back if the series is fortunate enough to return, Sarah’s controversial romantic twist and much more.
Wasting no time getting to the juiciest question of all, TVLine’s own Michael Ausiello — who moderated the event — grilled Katims on the likelihood of a renewal. The EP, of course, didn’t have a definitive answer, but instead turned it over to Max Burkholder, who enthused: “You can never be sure, but I am definitely crossing my fingers!”
Though Season 5 is not a certainty (yet), Katims did reveal a few things he has up his sleeve should the situation present itself: the first being the return of Matt Lauria‘s fan fave Ryan.
“Let’s say there’s a Season 5: I absolutely loved the dynamic between [Amber and Ryan] and I would love to continue that storyline,” he shared. However, “Matt may or may not be available next year, so we’ll have to see what happens.” (Mae Whitman, for her part, boasted playfully, “Oh, he’s available! He’s one of my closest friends and I really hope he comes back because I love working with him.”)
As for where any Season 5 would pick up, Katims said, “Hypothetically, there will be a time jump, like in real-time or somewhat close to that.”
Other topics touched on during the PaleyFest Q&A:
SARAH’S CHOICE | When questioned about Sarah picking Ray Romano‘s Hank over Jason Ritter‘s Mark in the finale, Lauren Graham had a surprising response. “I saw it differently,” she explained. “I felt that the finale left it open. Sarah made a choice and then Hank’s like, ‘I’m moving to Minnesota,’ so to me there was a lot of energy in both areas. I did not view it as [she] chose one or the other necessarily.” That said, “It was hard” to see Mark get his heart broken because “Jason’s been with us from the beginning” — sentiments the character’s alter ego echoed. “I remember standing in the [class]room and listening to Lauren say those things, and it was like, after all this time it all ends right here?!” Ritter laughed. “It is heartbreaking because you do become invested. This is a real family that’s been created.” Speaking of TV family…
THE GILMORE CONNECTION | “They always trade you in for someone younger, don’t they?” Graham teased when asked about her Gilmore daughter Alexis Bledel playing Ritter’s love interest in a Fox comedy pilot. More seriously, the actress admitted that it truly freaked her out when she learned of the casting “because I have such specific relationship with these people and these characters — it didn’t occur to me that they’d ever meet each other!” However, “three seconds” after processing the news, she realized: “It’s going to be amazing. The two of them will be perfect together… And [as such] I can guarantee you Mark and Sarah will not be back together.” (To even the score, she’s hoping that “Alexis’ old love interests from Gilmore Girls will be Sarah’s new love interest.” Paging Matt Czuchry….)
THE GRADUATE | Don’t expect the college-going Drew to disappear next year in the same way that Haddie mostly did. “Drew is going to Berkeley,” Katims noted, “So, he’s in town.”
BABY LOVE? | Not exactly. Dax Shepard and Joy Bryant revealed that when they both read that Crosby and Jasmine were having a baby, they thought: “Nope. Not gonna happen.” Their big hope: “Our baby’s going to sleep a lot.”
ABORTION ISSUE | “This one was a particularly difficult one,” Katims said of the choice to have Drew’s girlfriend Amy terminate her pregnancy. “It’s a tricky subject matter, but I felt in my gut that it was a story I wanted to tell. We set out in a way to make sure we were accurate, but to also be very sensitive. I didn’t want to politicize it… We wanted to get underneath the story and tell them in a way that we feel is as real as possible.” The showrunner went on to reveal that he “was blown away by Miles [Heizer's] performance in particular.”
TEXAS FOREVER | Will we ever see more Friday Night Lights vets come through Parenthood? Katims hopes so. “I have loved bringing these actors on,” he shared. “The process would start with a character that we come up with, and then [one of the writers] suggesting” an FNL alum.
A TIME FOR PRIDE | Fielding a fan Q about when/if a gay character would be introduced, Katims said candidly, “It is something I would love to find a way to do. The “tricky part,” he explained, is that a majority of the characters are established already, so an organic genesis for that storyline needs to exist. Fun fact: Whitman admitted to trying to get the show to make Amber gay a few seasons back, but it never stuck.
CHATTY CAST-Y | Love it or hate it, the cast of Parenthood is notorious for talking over each other in scenes — but why? Detailed Katims: “I’d just done Friday Night Lights and I wanted to bring some of that style to Parenthood…. We shoot with three cameras, both sides of the scene at once, which allows the actors to react to each other and exist in the moment — and what happens in those real moments would never have otherwise been discovered. So many of the greatest moments of the show have come from that process… The actors are now so in-tune and know how to do it that I think it elevates the scene and makes it seems much more lifelike.”
It takes a lot to walk off with “biggest emotional twist” honors in a Parenthood episode that features a pregnancy, a cancer resolution, an adoption and two admissions to college.
Congratulations, Sarah and Amber. You killed us during the Season 4 finale Tuesday night. Now can you please pass the Kleenex?
Here, showrunner Jason Katims discusses the heartbreaking dissolution of Sarah’s Hank/Mark love imbroglio and Amber’s major move toward finally finding happiness. The Parenthood boss also weighs in on the possibility of a fifth season for the NBC drama — and previews which up-in-the-air cast members might return to take part.
TVLINE | Was there ever a scenario that had Sarah choosing Mark over Hank?
It was up in the air. We definitely had a theory of where we would go in the end, but this one was something we explored all different options for. We did like the idea that she would wind up without either of the two of them in the end. Even though she made the choice of Hank, he was leaving so it wasn’t all tied up in a bow. That just felt right for where it was going. So, where we ended up was the direction we had kind of mapped out from the beginning — but we did think about changing that. A lot of the moves that we made story-wise along the way were different than what we started out thinking would happen. It wasn’t a straight line at all.
TVLINE | It almost seemed as though Sarah was trying to convince herself that Hank was the right choice — even as she was saying goodbye to Mark. Was that purposeful on your part? Or just the way the actors played it?
That’s one of the things you get when you have actors like Lauren Graham and Jason Ritter playing those scenes; you get nuance and layers that are beyond what you could have imagined when writing the scene. I felt like Sarah was struggling with the decision even as she was making it, absolutely. And I think that made the story feel even more real. I felt very much with her as she was making those decisions, as opposed to thinking, ‘Oh my god, how could you talk to Mark that way?’ I do think that it was what we intended, but as you see the scenes, it’s even more wrenching than what the writers had intended.
TVLINE | Should the show receive a fifth season, is the door officially closed on Mark? And what’s the plan for Hank?
When it comes to both Jason Ritter and Ray Romano, I feel like we have to think about those stories in a way where it’s a possibility that it will end their arc. The availability of those actors we just don’t know. They’re both wonderful actors, very much in demand. We’ve been so lucky to have both of those guys on the show — Ray for the whole season, and Jason for a good chunk of the series. And as you can see with Jason’s arc over the course of the series, he’s come back and forth based on his availability. [Laughs] We didn’t really intend for it to close the door on either of the actors…. We don’t know what’s going to happen next year because we don’t yet know if we have a next season, but the process will hopefully be that we do get an other season and at that point we’ll let story drive these decisions.
TVLINE | On the other end of the spectrum, Ryan left off in such a great place, particularly with Amber. Is the hope to bring Matt Lauria back so that you can explore a new chapter of their story?
Again, it goes to all of those questions about whether Matt’s around and available and interested, and also there’s a storytelling point of view. But I do think the relationship between Amber and Ryan was much more than what we had ever imagined. Those two actors together, there was such great chemistry and it was so wonderful watching them do scenes together. As a result, the storyline with Ryan started expanding over the season, and we wanted to [end with] the promise of it expanding further. I hope that it does work out to explore that relationship more because I think it’s been a really great one. I talk about this with Mae [Whitman] all the time: if you look at Amber, where she started in the pilot episode to where she’s come, it’s been such a coming-of-age story. To see her becoming a young adult and watching Mae find every layer there is to find in that is really great and something that isn’t often depicted at that particular age — at least not the way we’re attempting to do. And this relationship with Ryan has been a huge step for Amber, in watching her grow and mature.
TVLINE | It was no doubt a packed finale, but was there anything you would’ve liked to include but just didn’t have enough time for?
Well, we always knew it was going to be 15 episodes, so we knew how to design the season. So, if something felt too fast, you can’t really blame me. [Laughs] No, we knew all along, and more of less, we knew what it was going to be. It’s the nature of the show [for a lot to happen] because there are multiple storylines. You do feel that you owe the audience to get to somewhere in the end. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a complete resolution and it doesn’t necessarily have to be a huge cliffhanger, but I do feel like you want to get everybody to a place where you feel like there’s an end to their journey that season.
TVLINE | One rumor floating around is that NBC will renew Parenthood, but for a fifth and final season. Have you heard anything about that? And what would your thoughts be on ending the show next year?
Selfishly, I really love this show. I love the process of doing the show, I love the process of telling stories that mirror the things that are important in life. I actually feel like this season we’re just growing creatively, especially as the season went on. So, if we did get another season, I don’t personally feel that it has to be the final season of the show, from a creative standpoint or from my investment in doing the show. And I think the cast and the crew would agree with that. It’s a show everybody loves to do. There are many factors involved, however, that I don’t influence. I have not heard that rumor — that if they order another season it’d be the last. I will say the one thing that I would like is that when it does come to it being our final season, I would love to be in a position of knowing that early on. I would love to be able to write toward however we want to leave these characters that we’ve grown to love so much… That’s not always a possibility, and I think it’s probably rare in television to have that. [Laughs] But I would love to be able to know ahead of time. The network [is in] the thick of pilot season, so I don’t think the future of Parenthood is what they’re thinking about at the moment; they’ll get to that in a little bit, and we’ll see.