'The Goldbergs': Inside the Home (and Office) of TV's Most Detailed Comedy

Showrunner Adam F. Goldberg takes THR on a guided tour of the 1980-something set, which is filled with pieces of his heart — and childhood toys and art.
Lesley Goldberg
Adam F. Goldberg and the 'Short Circuit' model in the set's toy closet

Adam F. Goldberg is like a kid in a candy store — only instead of candy, this store is ABC's The Goldbergs and the sugary treats are toys that the showrunner collected, some of which now decorate the set of the third-year 1980-something comedy based on his life.

Welcome to the set of The Goldbergs, the family comedy that is inspired by Goldberg's awkward adolescence and his Jewish family (and smother-mother). The series, produced by Sony Pictures Television, boasts one of television's most detail-oriented sets that Goldberg — and prop master Jem Elsner — go to great lengths to ensure are every bit as real as its stories.

"I hand-picked everything on the whole set. It took a lot of time and it drives everyone nuts," says Goldberg to The Hollywood Reporter during a guided tour of the set (and his office) on the Sony lot in Culver City. "Some of this stuff no one will notice but I feel like it adds to the legitimacy of the show."

Among the examples are the VCR featured in the show's opening credits, which matches the one Goldberg's family had in their living room during his childhood. Goldberg also selected where each toy —many of which are vintage and cost a small fortune on eBay — is placed on the set. (One upcoming prized find is a Dinosaucer toy set to be featured on an upcoming episode that cost the show $1,200 on eBay.)

Like he does for a lot of the 1980s music featured on the show, Goldberg painstakingly writes letters to toy makers — and food companies! — to have their products featured on-screen, even if it's in the background of a shot that many viewers may overlook.

"You may never see it, but with every single detail, getting an approval for everything takes forever," says Goldberg with a laugh. "I wrote one for [board game] Fireball Island because it was a really special game to me — and the letters make all the difference." 

The showrunner estimates he's written between 25-50 letters for posters, toys, songs and more to largely positive results. "Everyone says yes," he says, noting Def Leppard reached out and a poster was subsequently added to Erica's room. "A lot of these '80s properties fall into this weird crack where no one knows who owns them — and no one wants to get sued — so there's many properties where the chain of title of who owns it is so complicated — or doesn't even exist — that they can't physically approve it."

One example of an iconic '80s property that won't appear on The Goldbergs is The Dukes of Hazzard — and not because of the confederate flag controversy but because of a copyright infringement lawsuit over the movie.

Also stuck in a legal roadblock is Goldberg's "Thriller" episode, which he feels is one of the show's best scripts ever. "There were so many letters written for 'Thriller' and I never got it. I think me talking about it at TCA ruined my chances," says Goldberg with a laugh. "Rod Temperton, the writer of 'Thriller,' was going to say yes and then I half complained about it so now he's saying no. It's a bummer; it was a gamble and it backfired. I was hoping that my passion would show, but you know billionaires! He just isn't interested in having the song be on television." And while the Halloween-themed episode dedicated to the Michael Jackson hit may not ever air, Goldberg says he's still trying to figure out a way to do a "Thriller" episode without the track.

While heart is at the center of The Goldbergs, that same love can be found on set with many of Goldberg's personal toys and artwork scattered about. (Images of Goldberg as a child are also on display in framed family photos all over the set that also feature stars Wendi McLendon-Covey, Sean Giambrone, Troy Gentile, Hayley Orrantia, George Segal and Jeff Garlin as kids, too.)

In young Adam's (Giambrone) room, for example, some of the walls are lined with sketches of robots at various stages — all hand-drawn by diehard robot aficionado Goldberg during his childhood that his mother, Beverly, passed along.

While toy companies have been supportive of the series, Goldberg says the next frontier is getting them to reach out to him to be featured on the series.

"On Entourage, they got free booze and VIP passes to clubs — and all I want is toys," he laughs. "That's what happens when they give guys like me a television show: you try and get toys and Garbage Pail Kids!"

Speaking of Garbage Pail Kids, Topps — the company behind the iconic trading cards — issued a special The Goldbergs card in its 30th anniversary set featuring the famous family.

Read more 'The Goldbergs': What It's Like Going Back to the '80s for 'Ferris Bueller'

For Goldberg, meanwhile, his love of pop culture can be traced back to his childhood. While he has two older brothers — the character of Erica (Orrantia) is based on his brother — they both were in high school who wanted nothing to do with him as a kid. "The reason I have so many videos and I love these movies and toys so much is because that's what I had," says Goldberg. "The only interaction I had with my brothers is like negative attention where I'd basically egg them on into beating me up — which was delightful! Otherwise, it was me with a video camera jumping on a bed pretending to be the Ultimate Warrior or setting up my robots making a Transformers movie because I was a lonely kid."

As each episode of the ABC comedy ends with Goldberg's actual footage — many of which capture the experiences at the heart of various episodes — the showrunner also finds inspiration in his geek-tastic office, which is lined with Transformers, GoBots, action figures — many custom designs — and lunch boxes that are all part of his massive collection. (Check out the wall of action figures in front of Goldberg's desk, below.)

"I like being surrounded by all the stuff that makes me feel creative and inspires me," he says as he shows off a massive Garbage Pail Kids collection and other priceless collectibles. (Many of the toys on the set are locked up at the end of each day — and during the off-season in a special game room of sorts where Elsner and company have been known to play classic Nintendo games during downtime.)

"There are times when we need a joke and we're like, 'Oh, we've already done a Magnum, P.I. joke,' and we'll just walk around my office and be like, 'Fall Guy! We haven't done that!" Goldberg explains. "So it does help in that way, but generally when there's an episode that's largely influenced by a movie, it comes organically from the writers' room."

One such story is an upcoming Caddyshack nod in which young Adam "Caddyshacks at the pool at school because he hates swimming." Goldberg says the episode takes its roots from his middle school disdain for taking his shirt off — a feeling that was shared among the men and women in the show's writers' room. "The guys and girls in the writers' room all had memories that were terrible — the women would hold up kickboards so guys wouldn't look at their bodies — really raw memories," he notes. "We wanted to do a swimming episode and thought going through puberty, it's the worst time ever to be in front of each other in bathing suits so we thought, 'How does Adam shut down the pool?' and we came up with the idea of the Baby Ruth and all the sudden, we're in a Caddyshack area."

"That's how it happens — we'll start with a story and my mind is so obsessive over these things that I grew up with, I'll somehow relate it back to a movie or something," says Goldberg. "If there's an episode about Barry (Gentile) fighting, I'll be like, 'It could be like the Highlanders!' They feed off each other in that way.

Click here to for more true stories from the 1980-something set of The Goldbergs and to see the showrunner's office collection.

The Goldbergs returns Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. on ABC.