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For The Goldbergs creator Adam F. Goldberg, the ABC comedy has been a dream come true. The showrunner, who developed the show for Fox, has seen the 1980s-set comedy be embraced by critics and families alike. Icons from the era, including Peter Gabriel and Corey Feldman, have taken notice and securing the decade’s biggest musical hits has become an easier process, with artists including Bon Jovi quick to lend their tunes.
Here, Goldberg talks with The Hollywood Reporter about making friends with his former heroes, teaming with LucasFilm for a Star Wars episode and his plans for season two. Those plans include a Goonies-style tribute to an as-yet-undecided John Hughes episode, New Kids on the Block, and as Goldberg hopes, a new time slot as part of ABC’s Wednesday family comedy block.
What’s been the most valuable lesson you’ve learned this season?
Do what I believe in. I had the Goonies episode, which I wanted to do from the moment I pitched the show, and I got a lot of resistance from the writers, who were all trying to convince me not to do it. They nicknamed the show Adam’s Folly, and that was the episode that everyone talks about. I doubted doing it because they thought it was so specific and small and a lot of the writers hadn’t seen Goonies. That was a big learning experience to really do the moments and episodes you believe in, no matter what everybody says — especially when the show is named after you and it’s about your family. At the end of the day, when you’re the showrunner, the show lives and dies by you and there are so many people weighing in and giving opinions, you just have to go with your gut and do what you really believe in and feel is going to be funny.
What about the flip side? Any regrets or things you wish you’d done differently?
In the beginning, there were a lot of legal concerns about using real people. So Dana Caldwell is really Amanda Caldwell. Everyone had had concerns that it was so autobiographical. I changed her name, and then she Facebooked me and was happy and excited. That’s my biggest regret: That I didn’t use the real person’s name. It still bothers me. I wish I had embraced the autobiographical nature of the show earlier. After that, I started doing Dave Kim and all these other people that were real. Some of them I hadn’t talked to in years. I decided to reach out to people, like my best friend Emmy “Muscles” Mirsky, asking if I could tell some of these great stories. Initially, that wasn’t going to be my plan, but I learned my lesson by changing it and having the actual person reach out to me and ask, “Why don’t you just use my name?”
We did a whole story about how J.C. Spink tormented you, too.
I had other people who were on that school bus with me Facebook me and be like, “J.C. shot spitballs at me, too! You weren’t alone!” (Laughs.)
What about ratings — are you pleased with the show’s performance and time slot?
With our lead-in [Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD] not really being a good fit, we’re still getting the same ratings: 1.8-1.5 [in the 18-49 demo], whether SHIELD is on or not. ABC recognizes we have an audience. We have some of the best live plus-3 numbers of their shows. At the end of the day, they’re happy with the numbers. The way to really expand our audience is to go on the family night with all their family shows, and that’s something that we’re really hoping for next year.
What’s your ideal time slot?
We’d love to be after The Middle [on Wednesdays at 8:30] just because we hear that so many kids love our show, but they can’t watch it at 9 p.m. when it’s on [on Tuesdays]. We would love to be on at 8 or at 8:30 because this has actually emerged as a show that the whole family watches. Beyond whether shows work at 9:30 p.m. after Modern Family, I feel like that’s too late for our show. I’m not trying to make an edgy family comedy. I’m trying to make something really sweet and nostalgic that people can relate to and that kids can watch with their parents. Those kinds of shows belong at 8 or 8:30.
Are you pleased with how ABC has promoted the show?
ABC said they were going to heavily promote Tuesday nights and they did. I have no complaints about the promos; billboards were everywhere. There was so much attention on the show, partly because of SHIELD, but also because ABC loved The Goldbergs and really promoted us. They made that promise and they totally delivered. We don’t have any complaints. My actual fear is that they keep us at this time. We are doing well enough that if they said to me, “We’ll give you five years at this time slot,” I’d say, “Fine.” To me, it’s just about trying to get more eyes on the show. We know we fit in with the family comedies, so that’s the hope.
The show faced some early criticism for not being set in a specific year in the ’80s. Are you happy with the decision to set it in “1980-something”?
I believe it’s the only reason the show is still alive, honestly. At the end of the year, we had our board of all the episodes, and if I had set this show in 1984 or 1985 — which is what you would have had to do if you want to last five or six seasons — there were maybe six episodes I could have done. There would have been no Big Tasty (the rapper alter-ego of Troy Gentile‘s Barry) because rap wasn’t around yet; no Goonies episode if it was set in 1984; no Say Anything; no laser tag. I really didn’t have any choice. Creatively, it just freed us up. I understand that it drives some people crazy, but people have really come to understand what the show is now and they’re going with it and happy to see all those things from their childhood that they remember and love. I believe it’s the reason the show is still around and that I got my back 10 episodes. I was able to do the stories that I desperately wanted to from moment one and realized that I would have to wait six or seven years to do an episode about a power glove if I wanted to, and I couldn’t wait that long.
How long do you envision the show running? Will it always be set in the ’80s?
I decided it will always be in the ’80s. By setting it in 1980-something, I don’t have to age the characters. I’m keeping everybody in the same grade next season and then when everyone seems a little bit older, I can move them up a year. I was starting to get stressed out about Erica (Hayley Orrantia) becoming a senior in high school and my producer said, “Why? It’s 1980-something. This can all be the same month every episode for all we know.” It was really freeing that I don’t necessarily have to age the kids until it’s really appropriate. Plus I love doing those middle school stories with Sean [Giambrone, who plays young Adam]; they’re so sweet and fun.
My first movie that I sold was called Fanboys and it was about Star Wars fans. I’ve had a long relationship with them, and on my last show [Breaking In], I did a Star Wars-themed episode that never aired. It was our finale, directed by Christian Slater, where we re-created the Death Star’s trash compactor room and did some really amazing stuff. I’ve just had a long relationship with LucasFilm, and Star Wars has basically built my career starting with Fanboys. I remember waiting in line for Return of the Jedi; it was a defining moment in my life and I knew it was an episode I wanted to do. I reached out to them fairly early in the year and asked what kind of stuff I could do. They allowed me to do whatever I wanted with their property. They’ve signed off for me to use — in any episode — any Star Wars thing I want beyond the Return of the Jedi episode that I’m doing. I have a longstanding relationship with LucasFilm and they trust that I’m going to do right by the property. The only time I’ve ever gotten a no from them was on Breaking In. I did a Jar Jar Binks joke that they were like, “You’re better than that.” Other than that, they’re like, “Go have fun.” (Laughs.)
We talked at the start of the season about the potential to explore some of the newsworthy moments from the ’80s. Is that something that you’re considering for season two?
It’s not any more. Initially, when my show was at Fox, I imagined it being kind of edgy. The pilot was very loud — more similar to what my family’s really like — and I quickly realized this is an ABC show. It needs to go with The Middle and Modern Family. All of us have kids, and the rule in the writers’ room is, “Would you be comfortable explaining this joke to your kids?” I don’t know that any of that heavy political stuff really belongs on a show where you’re sitting down with your 6- or 7-year-old to watch. The Wonder Years was wonderful because the 1970s were defined by the Vietnam War. With my show, every episode is a fun slice of the ’80s and the stuff that you remembered and love about your childhood. I don’t know that I want to bog it down with some big political message or something super dramatic like the Challenger blowing up, which we’ve talked about. That was a big event that we all had a memory of, but our episodes end dramatically and emotionally with the family, and that’s probably enough. I don’t know that I need to add on some big political or emotional thing of the times on top of it.
You’ve done Goonies, Tron and Star Wars. What other big tributes would you like to do?
We decided after the Goonies episode that every year we’re going to do one big Adam’s Folly episode and straight up homage to an ’80s movie. We’re already batting around which John Hughes [Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Weird Science, Pretty in Pink, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, etc.] movie it will be. I don’t know which one, but that’s for season two. The other thing I really want to do is WrestleMania. That was a huge thing for me growing up that I went to. That involves a lot of permission and dealing with the WWE. I would love to do a Beastie Boys episode because they were just so defining for me in middle school. I want to do a New Kids on the Block episode. All of these things involve reaching out to people, writing letters and showing my passion. That’s all for season two.
New Kids on the Block?! That’s amazing.
I have a whole episode mapped out in my head about the time that me and Chad Kremp became obsessed with the New Kids. It started out in jest, and we ended up really loving their music. And that’s perfect for Adam and Barry.
Hughes has to be Breakfast Club or Ferris Bueller, right?
It’s got to be one of those, yes. I love this idea that once a year we’re going to do a cool homage episode, and I’m going to limit all my geekiness to one episode, because then I’ll go wild and it’ll be every episode (laughs). I want this show to be more about the universal family stories and not my love for the ’80s stuff, which, obviously, I can get swept up in. That might not always be a good thing!
You’d been courting John Cusack and wound up doing a Say Anything nod. How did that come to pass? Have you gotten any other feedback from the creative community?
I was trying for so long to get in touch with him, writing emails and letters, but it was Jeff Garlin just going, “I basically grew up with this guy in Chicago” and he literally picked up the phone, dials and asked John, “Hey, we want to use you on The Goldbergs. OK, cool. Thanks. Bye.” That was amazing. I never heard if he watched it or not. I do know that Peter Gabriel, whose “In Your Eyes” was featured in Say Anything, also reached out and they loved the episode. He asked if we could use more of his music.
Has anyone else reached out who wants to be on the show?
My favorite person that I’ve been talking to is Corey Feldman (Goonies, Stand by Me, Lost Boys, Gremlins). When we were doing the Goonies episode, he was so on board and so excited; it was super cool. I did a Weird Science bit and Ilan Mitchell-Smith, who was the star of Weird Science opposite Anthony Michael Hall, and I wanted to use the covers of the movie and album, which includes his likeness. We reached out to him and he contacted me and said, “I’m a professor in Long Beach of medieval studies. After that movie, I never acted again. I have kids. They’ve never been to a set. I’m so sorry that I’m asking, but I would love to come and just bring them just to show them what it was like for me.” I was like, “Are you kidding me?!” He came to set and was the nicest guy. He’s a tabletop gamer and a buddy of mine now. It’s just so weird and surreal — no one recognizes him. He lives this life as a professor, and that part of him is a thing of the past. He was really excited that there was someone out there who memorized his movie and loved it, though I think he was really weirded out by it! (Laughs.) It’s really fun to have the star of Weird Science hanging out backstage listening and watching.
Have you had any issues with music rights?
Everyone’s been really open to it. I would love to use Guns ‘N Roses on the show but Axl Rose is notorious for saying no and we haven’t even tried. I wanted to use Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer” and they rarely say yes. I wrote an email and just said, “This was a song that we danced to at my wedding, and it’s a big song from my childhood,” and they were like, “Cool.” What we’re hoping for is like on Glee, when people start giving us stuff. We’re assuming that when the songs air, there’s a spike on iTunes so we’re hoping that eventually some of the artists will offer their songs instead of us paying for them.
What would you do with Guns ‘N Roses?
I would do an episode where we go to a Guns ‘N Roses concert because that was the best concert I’ve ever been to. I’m trying to remember — this is why I do 1980-something because I don’t even know what year it was — but my two favorite concerts were Michael Jackson‘s “Thriller,” which was my first concert and then Guns ‘N Roses at the Spectrum. What song would I use? “Paradise City,” for sure (laughs).
Have you considered doing a Goldbergs soundtrack with all the music you’ve licensed?
We talk about it all the time. We’re told that they might do it. A lot of the ’80s songs we want on there people can get on iTunes, but we have enough Big Tasty stuff and Hayley’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” [cover]. We’ve done a small amount of music that would go nicely on an album accompanied by Toto’s “Africa,” so I would love that.
It sounds like you’re pretty confident the show will be back for season two.
The conversations have all been really positive for a long time. [ABC Entertainment Group president] Paul Lee said at TCA that our show was an asset and something he wanted on for a long time. I’ve felt that pressure lift off me relatively quickly. All of the other new ABC comedies had to go in and basically pitch what their show would be for the back-nine and I never even knew about it because they didn’t ask that of me. From moment one, they believed that I knew what I was doing, that I knew the characters and what the show was. It really helps when you have that support from the very top. All I was focused on was doing great episodes and trying to show them that, hopefully, my show can go on their Wednesday night and maybe be one of their next family comedies that sticks around for a long time.
Wrapping up, what does your mom think of Wendi’s performance and the show overall?
She loves it. My dad passed away and she hasn’t seen any of these videos that I show at the end [some of which feature him]. Every week, she calls me touched and crying. She recognizes that the Beverly on TV is a very Disneyfied, sweeter version of how she is in real life — which is a real smothering ball buster — which comes across on the show, too. There are a lot of heartfelt hugs and snuggies, which she doesn’t often get in real life. So her main complaint is, “Why can’t you hug me more in real life?” (Laughs.)
The Goldbergs returns with new episodes on Tuesday, April 29 on ABC.
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