Scott Silveri Interview for Speechless Series #ABCTVEvent #Speechless
During my time in L.A., I took a break from all things Disney Moana to interview Scott Silveri, writer and executive producer for ABC Speechless TV series, before taking a set tour and meeting the Speechless cast.
Note: Disney and ABC TV invited me on this all expense paid trip to Los Angeles for the Moana Event and ABC TV Event. While I will share different events and activities during the trip, any personal views expressed are always 100% my own.
Since "Speechless" is about a family with a child with special-needs facing challenges each day, during the interview, I had to ask Scott Silveri....
photo credit: (ABC/Kevin Foley)
Did you have to make any changes to make it more network ready? Or any specific changes from real life to a TV family life?
Scott Silveri: The network was actually supportive of what we wanted to do. The liberties I took were in the difference between Micah’s character, JJ and my brother in real life. In real life my brother’s condition is a little more significant.
And, I wanted with the character for there to be a lot more back and forth. That was my choice. That wasn’t them laying the hammer down and saying, make it lighter or make it funnier or make it anything different. I just thought in a world where you have six characters in a family, you want a lot more give and take between them.
And it also was important to me. One challenge, when I was thinking of doing a version that was closer to my own experience, I never wanted that character to seem like a prop. I wanted him to be active, and this made it easier to be active.
And when I was thinking about the JJ character, the criterion that I kept coming back to is... is this a character that would exist on TV independent of a disability, independent of the wheelchair.
And that was the litmus test.
And once he has an attitude and he has agents and he has things that he wants, okay that’s somebody that is worth writing for. But if it was simply defined by, you know, a wheelchair, then that’s telling a story I didn’t wanna tell.
I’d love to say that I had some big fight with them. But they were supportive.
photo credit: (ABC/Michael Ansell)
Scott also shared how his family reacted knowing he wrote a show based on his experience
Scott Silveri: They were really incredibly supportive about it. I made it clear from the beginning to them, as I try to make clear to anybody else, this is not their story. This is not my story or my brother’s sister. What’s important to me is to capture a couple of elements about the time we had growing up. They were very, very supportive about that.
The things that I wanted to play to was how choice is very important in how you live your life. I feel like you can take whatever challenge is thrown your way and wallow in it or let it define you or turn and have it make you a better person or more fun person or more interesting person.
You can curse the heavens or you can band together and make it work. And that’s what my mom did. That’s what my dad did. And I wanted to celebrate that at every turn.
This is intended to be a love letter to my mom and my dad.
And I hope that comes across. They’re broadly drawn characters and this is not a documentary about my childhood, but it really is meant to be a loving depiction of the choices that I celebrate.
photo credit: (ABC/Nicole Wilder)
Scott Silveri: But the great thing is their response to it. When they first read it and I asked permission. I did not wanna get in trouble for this. Like this would make for a lot of bad Thanksgivings and Christmases.
I knew wading into these waters, while it wasn't about us per se, I needed their permission, their bind. But the great thing that I got back from them, when I first showed them, wasn't it wasn’t flattery or vanity.
But more like, oh, you know, there’s gonna be a famous actress playing a version of me or it was just relief. Like "Oh, it’s gonna be a family like ours on TV, and that’s fantastic". Because so much of the experience of families like ours was just feeling invisible, you know? Not being heard.
And I don’t think that’s specific or unique to disability, but it’s certainly the experience of a family with somebody with disability. It’s like people either stare or ignore. And they found it refreshing to have a story like ours told.
photo credit: (ABC/Nicole Wilder)
When asked how they decided which story-lines the character and audience are ready for, Scott shared
Scott Silveri: I think that the mechanism is simply we ask people who lived this. Those who live in the advocacy world. I’ll give you a for instance. Early on, Micah, the actor, is working on walking. He has been for a long time.
And, we thought if all the things that you see on TV, all the arcs, I’m gonna get a job at Bloomingdales, etc wouldn't that be an interesting thing to do? And then we kicked it around for a while and I talked to a couple of people in the community, and they’re like...'not sure that you wanna go there especially early, cause we don’t wanna make it a story about overcoming a disability'.
And I get that. Like I thought it was like lightning in a bottle, and then I heard that feedback. That’s insight that I don’t have.
Scott Silveri: So, we’re doing our homework and asking the questions, but in terms of generally, things that make us afraid are the things that we’re running for like sexuality and disability. That’s somebody nobody wants to talk.
And very early we wanna get this kid dating. When I talk to Eva, who introduced me to the idea of this board, when I talked to her about the walking thing, she was the first one like, I don’t know.
I was like, well, what kind of things should he do or be doing? And she said, he’s 16. He should wanna date. He should rebel. He should, wanna be popular, wanna make friends. He should be out making mistakes. And so early on, we had drinking. In another episode, we had him driving a car when he shouldn't be.
We have him dating, liking a girl and the challenges around that. So, I mean as a rule the stuff that we’re not sure about, that’s what we’re running towards. But we do wanna make sure at the same time that, we’re respectful to the experience. So, that’s why we have our professionals as a backstop, to make sure we don’t screw it up too much.
If the positive reaction from families, with and without kids with special needs, are an indication, then I'd say Scott and his team are far from screwing things up.
If you are a fan of the show, get ready for the episode “R-A-Y-C RAY-CATION” airing Nov 30, 2016 on ABC at 8:30 ET.
Maya enlists the family to assist JJ in romancing a girl at school, but it backfires when JJ expresses his feelings to Claire, and they are not reciprocated. Meanwhile, as the DiMeos are always late, Ray has the family practice to get to school in time for his upcoming weekend field trip
To learn more about Speechless, visit www.abc.com/shows/speechless
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