Jim Gaffigan on the Long Road to TV Land and Why He Won't Go Back to Broadcast

Jim and Jeannie Gaffigan - H - 2015
TV Land

Getting The Jim Gaffigan Show on the air has been a long process for husband-and-wife duo Jim and Jeannie Gaffigan.

The series was originally developed for NBC and filmed three pilots — the latter two for CBS — before TV Land picked up the final version with a straight-to-series order. Debuting Wednesday at 10 p.m., The Jim Gaffigan Show, based on the comedian's family life, centers on a married couple (Gaffigan and Ashley Williams) living in a two-bedroom New York apartment with their five children.

Here, the Gaffigans — they both write in addition to Jim's starring role — open up to The Hollywood Reporter about the process and how the freedom they get at TV Land beats what they would have gotten on a broadcast network.

After being twice developed at CBS were you surprised when they ultimately passed after so much critical buzz?

Jim Gaffigan: Absolutely. There’s a really long answer to this story because it goes back to me and Jeannie having dinner with [Everybody Loves Raymond creator] Phil Rosenthal, and Phil trying to convince Jeannie and I to do a show — and there is also a version of this where I was shocked. There was a meeting where we were doing a single-camera show that was different from the other CBS comedies. We had a lot of advocates at CBS. But it’s a business. Some of it has to do with what works on CBS, and some of it has to do with what syndicates. There’s a lot of money in this, and so I was shocked. There was even a version of this at NBC where they tried to make us do a network sitcomy version of the story we wanted to tell.

Jeannie Gaffigan: The pilot we sold to NBC was a simple story about the decision to circumcise one of our kids, and also there was a lot of Jim Gaffigan-driven point-of-view humor when Jeannie had just had this baby, and Jim had the responsibility of taking over for Jeannie. Once [NBC] bought it, they said, "You guys are first-time showrunners, so you need some guidance to how to put this in the formula that we’re looking for. So what if not only is the circumcision happening, but there’s also this football game or something that Jim really wants to see, but Jeannie can’t know about it, and there’s an inciting incident at the end of act one where he gets arrested by the security guard at this mall or something and it’s going to miss the circumcision or whatever it is." We started rewriting our ideas to fit into this formula.

How did the show evolve from that after you landed at TV Land?

Jim Gaffigan: As we went through the learning curve — having gone through the network machine and then gaining our independence where it’s Jeannie and I doing the show that we want to do — there were no people looking for this pot of $500 million. We had versions of these scripts in September, and as we were rewriting, we had jokes in there and I would look at it and be like, "Why would I think that joke was good?"

Jeannie Gaffigan: Because they were multicam jokes. They’re clearly jokes instead of lines.

Jim Gaffigan: It’s creatively fulfilling [now]. When people try and describe what this show is about, it sounds like something else. When you hear "sitcom," "half-hour," "clean comedian" on TV Land, you assume it’s one thing. It’s a fair description to say that this show is about a guy with five kids, but it doesn't tell the whole story. Whereas Girls is talking about four single girls in Brooklyn, that’s a more authentic or accurate description of the television show Girls than saying The Jim Gaffigan Show is about a guy with five kids.

When you were picked up at TV Land, did you have any doubts or concerns?

Jim Gaffigan: I had to convince [co-stars] Adam Goldberg and Michael Ian Black to go to TV Land. We thought we were going to be midseason [on CBS]. There was a lot of talk of it.There were some suitors after [upfronts] because there was decent buzz — whatever that means — surrounding the show. One of them was [Viacom's] Doug Herzog, whom I know from Comedy Central, who wanted it for TV Land. I enjoy doing stand-up and don’t care if I’m performing at the coolest club or the most convenient club, and I didn't care about whether TV Land was perceived a certain way. I just wanted people to sample the show. Doug wanted to rebrand TV Land and said we could shoot this with a network budget on a cable channel and agreed that he would air it on TV Land and then re-air it on Comedy Central so that people could sample it. They’re almost the perfect demographic because one’s older [TV Land] and one’s younger. Once he was open to that, I didn't particularly care what the vehicle was.

Given your experience with TV Land, would you develop for broadcast again?

Jim Gaffigan: That bureaucratic model has been successful. I look at this now and I have no hesitation in saying that I don’t think I could ever go back to that network model. I don’t think I could ever go back to getting a list of notes from a studio. That’s not to say that TV Land doesn't give notes. I understand the television business, but that network model, and the pilot, and then going to testing, I don’t think I could do that now.

How is it wrangling five kids in the scenes that they’re in?

Jim Gaffigan: It’s very difficult. There are plenty of times where our AV department will look at us and ask if it's necessary to have five kids in the scene. And we’re like, "That’s the reality."

Jeannie Gaffigan: One of the things we did to compromise was we created these great opening sequences that we put in time lapse. We’ll start off a show before Act 1, Scene 1 and have a real situation happening — whether it’s a meal, playing with toys or going to school — where we’ll have the five kid actors and just let them in real time do something real, and then we will put it in time lapse. After that sequence is done, the kids remain, and Act 1, Scene 1 starts on the same set that they’ve just destroyed.

Jim Gaffigan: We intentionally aged down the children in the show. There comes a point where you can have an adult conversation, and so roughly at the age of 5, and then you eventually have to interact. Even if you're discussing what you’re having for dinner, a 5-year-old should be involved in the conversation. So [in real life] our oldest is 11, and then we have 11, 9, 6, 4 and 2.

Jeannie Gaffigan: We need to portray that time that existed in our lives where we had two in diapers, and that works out much better for the stories.

The Jim Gaffigan Show airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on TV Land.