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At one point in time, ABC Family’s Switched at Birth — about two teenage girls, one of whom is deaf — could have had a slightly different premise.
The original idea centered on two girls, Daphne Vasquez and Bay Kennish, who discover they were switched at birth, but creator Lizzy Weiss admitted that incorporating deaf culture into the story added another layer. “The network and I decided to make the stakes even higher,” Weiss told The Hollywood Reporter. “I thought it was a big enough hook with two girls who were switched at birth and luckily we added this other layer to it that was fascinating.”
Switched at Birth, launched last June, set ratings records for ABC Family for a series debut, drawing 3.3 million viewers and posting a 1.0 rating among adults 18-49.
Weiss, who took a sign language theater course and was inspired by a real-life story she heard on the radio, spoke to THR about the challenges putting the show together, the struggles Bay and Daphne face and what’s coming up next.
The Hollywood Reporter: What were the challenges in putting the series together?
Lizzy Weiss: The first challenge was casting Daphne, [who is deaf]. Ironically we found Katie Leclerc pretty quickly and we cast her before we cast Bay, [played by] Vanessa Marano. After that, I felt pretty sure that audiences would be OK, contrary to conventional wisdom that people won’t read captions. [When we were shooting] the all-silent scene between Daphne and Emmett (Sean Berdy) in the pilot, we knew there was something special. Since then, I’ve felt comfortable adding more and more ASL and more deaf characters. We’ve had four-minute teasers that were all silent.
THR: In a recent episode, the final scene was completely silent and shown from Emmett’s perspective. What can you tell us about where that particular story is going?
Weiss: We’ve used that a few times over the episodes, either taking out sound or showing it from the deaf characters’ perspective. We use it sparingly. What’s so terrifying is that your hands are your voice. If you’re handcuffed, you’re voiceless. The real key for me is always using deafness as a metaphor for different and making sure it’s still universal for all kids.
THR: Where is Daphne going now that she’s joined the Buckner basketball team and John (D.W. Moffett) is coaching her privately?
Weiss: She’s trying on the identity and the life of the Daphne she would have been if she wasn’t switched. It’s also a father-daughter arc for the season because John is really against her joining the other team and we really play that out in the next 10 episodes. Is she on the hearing team or the deaf team? Is she on the rich team or the middle-class team? Is she a Vasquez or a Kennish? We have an episode coming up where [Katherine’s] mother comes to visit and she pushes a lot of buttons racially and asks questions about blood and who her real granddaughter is.
THR: What about Melody’s (Marlee Matlin) stance with Bay and Emmett?
Weiss: Melody is going to continue to have valid issues [with Bay]. We keep throwing obstacles at Bay and Emmett’s path and testing them as a couple and seeing how strong they are and if they really are meant to be.
THR: Angelo (Gilles Marini) is also in the fold, what can be revealed with him?
Weiss: He causes a lot of emotional drama for Daphne because she has to come to terms with why he left. (Note: In last week’s episode, Angelo revealed that part of the reason he bolted was due to Daphne’s deafness.) The old pull is back for Regina (Constance Marie); they had an intense, passionate relationship. She keeps trying to hold him at arm’s distance. Angelo is someone the Kennishes are still not sure about and can’t figure out what his motivation is, why he’s here and who he is.
THR: Will Wilke (Austin Butler) continue to be a factor in Daphne’s life?
Weiss: Wilke is a much-beloved character by everyone. He’s a lovable rich kid who has a heart and really falls for Daphne, someone unlikely for him. Daphne pushes him away for a while. They have a lot of chemistry, the actors, and they continue to hang out this season.
THR: And the hospital lawsuit moves on?
Weiss: We investigate a little more what happened in the hospital that day, how this monumental error could have occurred and who knew. Katherine is beginning to assert herself as a character and starts writing a book and gets very involved in a way that she’s never been ever in her life with people in stories way beyond her small little world. this quest changes her.
THR: Is the whole season plotted out?
Weiss: I’m writing the 12th episode, or the 22nd [of a 32-episode season 1], so we’re almost done. We have some ideas of where we want to go. There’s a big twist that we came up with very recently.
Switched at Birth airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on ABC Family.
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