'How to Live with Your Parents' Creator Claudia Lonow Will Never Leave Home (Q&A)
"I think they should have to be the ones to move out," the showrunner tells THR, opening up about the creation, casting and awkward notes for her autobiographical midseason ABC comedy.
For producer Claudia Lonow, How To Live With Your Parents (For the Rest of your Life) is not just the title of her mid-season comedy but also her reality.
The showrunner, who got her start in front of the camera as Diana Fairgate on Knots Landing, has been living with her college-bound daughter in her parents’ home for some 15 years. Come spring, that "life crisis situation"-turned-long-term reality wil prove fodder for her long-awaited ABC comedy starring Sarah Chalke as a version of her.
Lonow, whose past TV credits include Accidentally on Purpose and Less Than Perfect, spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about her unusual living situation, the notes her parents offered and that "uncomfortable" moment on the set.
The Hollywood Reporter: How much of what we’ll see on screen is autobiographical?
Claudia Lonow: Everything is based in reality. It’s unbelievable, I know. It started out as just sort of like a life crisis situation and now it’s a crazy thing that I just can’t seem to get out of. I’ve been thinking about the show and talking about the show and pitching the show for years. Literally, I’ve spent the past 10 years amassing stories and working on the pilot, and it’s been placed at places [on cable]. I’ve been obsessed. I’d read about these new shows coming out about the people who move in with their parents and I’d be like, ‘Wait, I should be the one who’s doing this because I’m the one who is actually living with my parents. I didn’t read some trend article in a magazine. I’m a trend-setter.’
THR: You’ve been trying to get this project on the air for years. Any thoughts on why a network finally bit?
Lonow: Some of it is just luck – that’s this business. But I think some of it is that some of the earlier incarnations of the story were a little bit darker. Part of why I can look at the story more comedically now is because I know the story turned out well. My daughter is healthy and this turned out to be a great thing for my family. She’s leaving for college in August. She got into Sarah Lawrence [in New York]. And so even though it seemed to go on longer than you would expect, I think it was all worth it in the end. And I think that made the story just easier for me to tell honestly.
THR: When did you move in with your parents?
Lonow: Oh, you’re going to think I’m so crazy. It was 15 years ago. And, you know, there’s a lot of different reasons why I never moved out, and that’s why the title became the title, by the way. Obviously, that wasn’t the title when I started.
THR: What had you planned to title it?
Lonow: I couldn’t come up with one. And then when I was putting it together this time, and I was like How To Live With Your Parents (For the Rest of your Life) makes sense because that appears to be happening to me right now.
THR: It’s a mouthful. What were the other options ABC discussed?
Lonow: Well, this got the most laughs because people really relate to it. Like I was driving to the lot and I was telling a guard that I’m working on How To Live With Your Parents (For The Rest Of Your Life), and he said, ‘Oh my God, I can’t wait to see that. My kid just moved in and I can’t get him out and that’s my worst nightmare.’ Or I went in for a checkup with my doctor, and she was telling me that her daughter and her husband and their kid just moved in. So, I mean that it just seemed to resonate with people, and they tested it and it was tested well.
THR: What kind of notes has your family given?
Lonow: Oh my God, they had notes all the time and they were involved in the casting. Both my mom and stepfather are in show business, in comedy, so the idea of using our real life in a comedic situation is not foreign to my family. They think it’s hilarious. They’re like, ‘Anything that’s good for the show!’ And they consider our whole lives the show.
THR: What about during the casting process?
Lonow: Well, it’s ironic that we cast Brad [Garrett] to play my stepfather because my stepfather is kind of short. So the fact that we cast the tallest person in the world makes him laugh. My parents know Brad because my stepfather’s one of the owners of The Improv [comedy club], and the idea that Brad knew my father made him such a good candidate. He really got the character.
THR: Has the rest of your cast spent time with the family?
Lonow: Oh yeah. My folks came to the set when we were shooting the pilot, and I have to say that admittedly was strange and uncomfortable. I mean, I made my first series semi-autobiographical [Showtime’s Rude Awakening], but that was my first writing job and I almost didn’t even focus on the fact that it was autobiographical. But this is different. It’s something that I’ve lived with for 10 years. I think my mother got there and said, 'Well, this is a little strange.' Of course, the great thing about my parents –and it’s what makes them such great characters—is that they’re more involved in their own life than they are in mine. They don’t give a shit about what I’m doing. I mean, they’re happy for me and proud of me, but they’re more into whatever they’re doing in their own life.
THR: Have they spent any time in the writers’ room?
Lonow: Yes, they came to the writers’ room and my stepfather says to everyone, “Well, you know, as parents, we were very into self‑discovery for Claudia. And self‑discovery begins alone.” They have these really fantastic, completely valid psychological reasons for everything they did. It’s especially funny when you compare the way parents used to be –the classic 1970s parents-- to the helicopter parents of today, and I fall more into that category.
We all went to Vegas together too. My parents were going to be there already because one of the comics [Kathleen Madigan] that my mom manages was opening at the Mirage, and I thought it would be fun for all of us to go. So we all went out to dinner at the Palms, and my stepfather became like the boss of dinner and ordered everything.
THR: What does your daughter think of all of this?
Lonow: Oh, she’s got her own life, so she doesn’t really care that much about what I do. She’s heading to college and if she watches this show, I will be surprised. But she has been to set, and she’s hung out with Rachel Eggleston, who plays her on the show. At some point, Rachel goes to my daughter, “So, I’m playing you, right?” And my daughter goes, ‘Yeah.’ And Rachel goes, ‘So that means Sarah [Chalke] is playing Claudia, right?’ And she’s like, ‘Yeah, that’s right.’ And then Rachel goes “So that means Elizabeth [Perkins] is playing your grandmother?” And she goes, ‘That’s right.’ And Rachel goes, ‘Wow, your grandmother is crazy!’
THR: What kind of notes have you gotten from ABC?
Lonow: The great thing for me is that they’re most intrigued by the real pieces of the situation. They want what really happened or a version of this really happened and they’re fascinated by the different parenting styles. A lot of parents these days feel so exhausted by trying to be perfect for their children and everything is so child‑centered. I think a lot of parents look back on parents who used to go out at night and have their kids play on the street fondly.
THR: There were several projects this development season that were at least semi-autobiographical. What’s the appeal of turning the camera on yourself?
Lonow: There’s a long history of performers and writers tapping their own personal histories to make a television show, from The Cosby Show to Seinfeld to Everybody Loves Raymond, and I think it’s because there are chapters in life just like there are chapters or episodes in a television show. And unlike a movie, which has a beginning, middle and end, TV is about an open-ended story.
THR: Now that you have a show coming on the air entitled How To Live With Your Parents (For the Rest of your Life), can you ever move out?
Well, this is the thing: my parents and I bought this house together, so I think they should have to be the ones to move out. Like, I moved out the first time. I don’t understand why the pressure is always on me. I always have to pack my shit and leave? [laughs]
Here's a clip from Lonow's comedy:
Email: Lacey.Rose@THR.com; Twitter: @LaceyVRose