'The Goldbergs' Boss on Courting the Beastie Boys, Being Jewish Enough and More Big Tasty

Showrunner Adam F. Goldberg tells THR that music from Michael Jackson, U2, The Who and Elton John is still off-limits
"The Goldbergs"

ABC's The Goldbergs may be primed to break out in its second season as the 1980-something series moves to a more thematic night of family comedies on Wednesdays this fall.

The series hooked viewers with Beverly Goldberg's "smother mother" in star WendiMcLendon-Covey, a classic middle child with a penchant for rapping in Troy Gentile's Barry and geek-obsessed dreamer in Sean Giambrone's young Adam as the series explored first love, lots of yelling and an homage to Goonies.

The Hollywood Reporter caught up with showrunner Adam F. Goldberg to discuss the pressures of being the network's lone returning comedy from its freshman class — and one of only five rookies to see a sophomore season — as well as how the music rights issue has changed, whether the show is Jewish enough and get an update on the show's planned John Hughes episode.

Photos Broadcast TV's Returning Shows 2014-15

How are the pressures different for you now heading into season two?

The only pressure I feel at this point is to keep up the quality in what I was doing last year. If I'm in the general ballpark, then I'm doing my job. Last year, you're so stressed about being canceled, and [wondering if] people are going to respond to the language of the show. With all of the reruns this summer, I feel like it's all falling into place, which is incredibly rare. Now the ball is in my court to keep it going with stories that are as sweet and funny as last year.

The lack of Jewish references was a subject of debate at TCA. Do you think the show needs to be more Jewish?

I always set out to do my experience growing up. That's what I'm giving. The show is called The Goldbergs, so I don't think there's any confusion of if they're Jewish or not — just like there was no confusion in my family of whether we were Jewish or not. For me, it's always about the language. We say "putz"in every episode; move your  "tukhus" and all of those Yiddish words. For me, that is a defining thing. We weren't big on Hanukkah. I'd love to do a Hanukkah episode but it doesn't speak to me because it wasn't big deal in our family. Now a Bar Mitzvah was huge deal and we're definitely discussing what that could look like and trying to figure out what that story is. I'm writing exactly what I grew up with; everyone who is Jewish has their own experiences. I'm telling what mine is and we want to stay true to what my family was because at the end of the day they call and yell at me (laughs).

Whose Bar Mitzvah would it be?

It would be Adam, who is the same age as a Bar Mitzvah kid. I invited Steven Spielberg and Stephen King to my Bar Mitzvah — and they both responded. I was 13 and realized what I really wanted to do and my Bar Mitzvah reflected that. My theme was Steven Spielberg; we did theme tables and had movie posters as well as a giant Oscar in the middle of the dance floor. I loved robots, so we had a robot from Great Adventure. My parents gave me an Oscar that said "Best Son," and my brothers sat there angrily saying, "What about us?!" They still complain about that. Spielberg gave me a bunch of autographs, which were on every table. It was super cool.

Last we spoke, you were prepping a John Hughes tribute. Have you settled on which movie?

We haven't decided yet. It's down to three options and it's about what's the best way it can fit in with the family and what the family issue could be. Last year, I did it as a later episode [with Goonies]because it's so different. I'm keeping it for episode 15 or 16 [this season], so when we start to run out of steam, we can go to this episode and get some new juice. It's ambitious, too, and will take a ton of planning in terms of clearing clips and getting actors' permission. Breakfast ClubSixteen CandlesFerris Bueller's Day Off, three great ones. That's why we keep going back and forth. We've also talked about Planes, Trains and Automobiles and Vacation. There are so many good ones.

Story: 'The Goldbergs' Boss Talks Time Slots, Plans for John Hughes, New Kids Tributes, More

You got the Wednesday time slot you wanted. Has that prompted you to do more family sequences?

No. I feel like I found a formula that worked last year and that's falling in this year. With Modern Family, you could start at any point or any season and know what's going on. That's what I'm trying to do: keep it the same.

You're expanding everyone's world a bit, casting Murray's father (Paul Sorvino), who is based on your grandfather. What can we expect to learn about Murray?

The thing with Pops (George Segal) is that that's my grandfather, so I was really excited and looking forward to figuring out what a Pop Pop story could be because he was such a character. The reason Pops made it as a character in the first season was because he was a crack up; he was like my best friend whereas Pop Pop was the opposite of that. He is a total curmudgeon and his life is a series of failures. So it's a more negative character. For the first season, I wanted that fun guy in there, so now we're opening up the world. Murray (JeffGarlin) had to raise his brother and now we're seeing what makes Murray, Murray — it's the way he was raised. But other than Pop Pop, we're not bringing any other cousins, uncles, nephew or nieces yet.

You're planning a Royal Wedding episode that will also see Beverly push Murray to renew their vows. What other big '80s benchmarks are you looking to feature this season?

We're doing a Back to the Future episode, which I'm really excited about. I'm obsessed with that movie and working on a documentary about it. Mattel was willing to give me hoverboard usage. All of this stuff takes a lot of time, and naturally any franchise is nervous when someone wants to do something with their property. But with my passion for all of these things, I'm getting to use things that normally people wouldn't get to do. It takes a lot of work. I had to write letters and explain where I come from and how I'm approaching this and why it's special to me. My producer Doug said I should just put out a book of all the letters I've written to everybody.

As a huge '80s fan, do you have any plans for tributes to Robin Williams or Joan Rivers?

I don't. Last year we did tribute to the Ultimate Warrior, who was someone that I loved growing up. I have a Mork and Mindy action figure and jeep in my office. Robin Williams would be a great idea but it just hasn't come up yet. Every episode is dedicated to somebody, so that's actually a great idea.

You also mentioned wanting to do WrestleMania, New Kids on the Block and Beastie Boys. Any update?

Beastie Boysis going to take a lot of work. Everyone has that album that they memorized from start to finish, and Licensed to Ill, for me and my brother, that was just it. There are so many videos of us doing word-for-word every rap on that album. But that involves writing letters and coming up with a story that they'll approve. Frankly, at the end of the day, I don't even think that it's possible. I don't know why they'd let their music be in an episode of TheGoldbergs (laughs).

Photos: Broadcast TV's New 2014-15 Shows

Has the music process gotten easier now that you're more established? Who is saying no?

One thing that has changed is that [producers] Sony is now very open to us using songs from their library and trying to make it possible that we get their songs. I'm hoping, in the same way it happened with Glee, people notice that music is a staple of the show and start contacting us to cut deals for songs. There are so many bands that I can't use: Michael Jackson, U2, The Who, Elton John and the Beastie Boys. There are so many people who are protective of their music but hopefully one of these people will see the show, and when we approach them, will go, "I know this show and I know [the music] will be treated in the right way." I'm waiting for that to happen. Def Leopard's manager reached out and said they loved the show and offered us their posters and music and we put them on t-shirts. They don't approve a lot of things, but they really love the show and they want to be on it. That's what I want to happen. We're doing a Twisted Sister episode. I reached out to Dee Snider and they approved the song, but I wanted to let him know why I was doing the episode. I have a vivid memory of running down my hall, going into my parents' room, throwing all their pillows and blankets off the bed, and singing "We're Not Gonna Take It," to them and being rebellious at 9 years old. Barry and I loved Twisted Sister and loved that '80s music. Every kid has a band they start. I have footage at the end of the episode with Barry and I singing and playing guitar, rocking out.

Fair to expect we'll see Big Tasty again this season? Did you expect that to catch on the way he has?

Of course! Big Tasty was a one-off joke I put in the second episode and it became a part of the character. Big Tasty is trying to woo Lainey (AJ Michalka) with a rap. It's a song he writes for her to win her heart, and it's pretty brutal. And Troy is so great. He loves rap and he takes it really seriously. As a teenager, you take it really seriously and that's what's so funny about the story.   

How much more of a "smother mother" can Beverly get?

A lot of people questioned many times we can go back to that well. I dealt with my mom over-loving in weird ways on a daily basis. That's a thrust of the season: the different ways she's getting involved when the kids don't want her to. The thing I love about the character — and my mom in real life — is she loves her kids so much that it's a detriment, which is an interesting dynamic. I didn't realize it would make for an interesting character. To me in real life, it was just something I would roll my eyes at. To re-enact scenes with my mom, my mom always storming down to school every day and complaining to a teacher that one of her kids had been wronged? You could do so many episodes of that and I dealt with it everyday.

The show mostly features stand-alone episodes. Do you have any big season-long story arcs that you'd like to do?

The only thing we're tracking is Erica, Barry and Adam, in their respective relationships with girls and boyfriends. I was obviously influenced by The Wonder Years. Kevin Arnold and Winnie Cooper was a thing that I looked forward to every week. I'm tracking Adam's love with Dana (Natalie Alyn Lind) and Barry's dysfunctional love with Lainey. They are very different relationships. Barry's relationship is the girl who can't stand you, but is attracted to you. Adam is that sweet, nostalgic first love that you look back on and remember fondly. For our mixed tape episode, which is the season two premiere, the real Dana contacted me. She didn't know we were doing mixed tape episode and called to say she was cleaning and found the tape I gave her in which I said I loved her. She gave it to me, and it's so brutal. I could barely listen to it! (Laughs.) Before every song, there's a little message I do. We play it at the end of episode. It's rough! It was one of those great, weird stars-aligning moment. When she emailed me, the writers couldn't believe that she happened to keep it. She had the whole thing, with my handwriting on the case and everything.  

The Goldbergs returns in its new time slot on Wednesdays at 8:30 p.m. on ABC.

Email: Lesley.Goldberg@THR.com
Twitter: @Snoodit

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