Among the more amusing aspects of Fox’s new comedy The Grinder is watching scenes from the fake TV show that starred Rob Lowe‘s character, Dean Sanderson. Also called The Grinder, it’s an ultra-hammy legal drama that would have actual lawyers — like Dean’s brother, Stewart (Fred Savage) — gnashing their teeth.
The good news for fans of the show, and the show within the show, is that those scenes aren’t going away as Dean’s TV career moves further and further into his rearview mirror.
“We start every episode with a clip from the show that’s thematic and ties into our episode,” co-creator Andrew Mogel says. He and co-creator Jarrad Paul love the device and especially the chance to create chances for Lowe to chew scenery as The Grinder‘s lead character… who’s named Grinder.
What Paul and Mogel won’t say is whether the fake Grinder was actually a good show. Read on for their thoughts on that, the brotherly bond between Dean and Stewart and how the show will proceed after its pilot.
What was the hook for the show? Did you start with the brothers’ relationship, with the legal setting, or were they both always there?
Mogel: [Both were] always part of the plan. There were two things we really loved about the show. One was this idea that if you were going to go into cardiac arrest next to somebody, you’d rather it be Noah Wyle than an average person, which is in the pilot. It’s a conversation we’ve had for a lot of years, and we always think it’s really funny that an actor would think he could do something — because he’s done it for years on TV, he thinks he could do it for real. … We also always loved the aspect of two brothers where one is just a superstar and the other one has a hard time dealing with that.
After you cast Rob, did you immediately land on Fred Savage to play Stewart?
Mogel: We had to do a little bit of a search. It was not an easy one, because we really have to have that character hold his own against Rob’s character. It was a struggle. But one of our producers, Nick Stoller, is friends with Fred. He just thought Fred was perfect and was able to coax him in. … We all thought he was perfect for it, and we were able to lock him in.
What sort of history do Dean and Stewart have? Has the relationship on screen in the pilot always kind of been that way?
Paul: I think there was always kind of this dynamic where Fred’s character is in the shadow of Rob’s a little bit. Rob was kind of always in the spotlight, and Fred’s character wasn’t. But I think when [Dean] left, [Stewart] had a great life here. He’s got a great family and a great job. He’s got a good thing going, and now Rob comes back and disrupts it all. You see Fred reverting to that younger brother role.
How will that relationship evolve going forward? You presumably don’t want to play the same beats as the pilot every week.
Mogel: I certainly think Rob’s character, his presence does irritate Fred’s character, but I think they both realize they kind of need each other. We keep saying together they’re a perfect lawyer because Rob’s got the style and Fred’s got the substance. … So there are moments where they both realize that and realize they need each other, and it’s not just about being annoyed with each other. They love each other. Rob looks up to Fred, so there’s that.
Paul: They both kind of want what the other has, in a way.
Do you need to have a legal case every week?
Paul: There’s not a case every week. There’s not really a formula to it. Sometimes it’s more family stories, sometimes it’s more of the work stuff. We haven’t really nailed down a specific formula, but we find that it’s kind of cool that we’re able to tell these different stories instead of getting locked into only one thing.
You say in the pilot that Dean’s show The Grinder ran for nine years, so it clearly was popular. But was it a good show?
Paul: I think it was …
Mogel: It’s a great question. (Laughs).
Paul: It’s a good question, yeah.
Mogel: I think in this world, it was considered a good show. It was obviously a success.
Paul: Well, a good show in what sense? There are shows that are on for a long time that might not be as good as some others. … I think it’s one of those soapy kinds of shows that got even soapier as time went on.
Mogel: I don’t think it was breaking new ground as a legal procedural. It probably felt like several other shows.
Paul: To us, it’s like The Good Wife is a different show than, like, Scandal, or Revenge. I think we’re taking things from all of them.
The Grinder airs Tuesdays at 8:30 p.m. on Fox.