Party of Five Reboot Showrunner Interview

Some TV revivals like Full House, The X-Files, Will & Grace and Roseanne bring back the original casts. Others, like Charmed, Roswell, New Mexico and Dynasty, start with a clean slate. Party of Five falls in the latter category. That actually gives the show a modern hook. In ‘90s Fox series, the Salinger family lost both parents in an automobile accident. In Freeform’s new Party of Five, the Buendia family’s parents are deported.

Freeform presented Party of Five for the Television Critics Association. The original creators Amy Lippman and Chris Keyser developed the reboot too, with Michal Zebede joining them. The creators of Party of Five spoke with /Film after the panel to answer our questions about this socially relevant take on Party of Five.

Do you expect you might explore some of the classic Party of Five storylines like cancer and alcoholism in the new Party of Five?

Lippman: Yes.

Keyser: The stuff of life is still open to us.

Lippman: I think yes, we’ll spiral down the drain very quickly if it’s just a one issue for. I think the family would deal with more issues than just the central one so yeah.

Keyser: A lot of it’s going to be about whom do I love and do they love me back and how does my family feel about them? What do I want to do outside of the family and what do I do inside and when does tragedy hit that we have to deal with it and how do we deal with it together? All those things are going to come.

I still remember the TV spot where Charlie tells Bailey, “You can choose to stop drinking. I can’t choose to stop having cancer!” Would it still be the corresponding characters dealing with those issues?

Lippman: We haven’t gone done, haven’t figured it out. One advantage that we have is the other show started from a dead stop, no pun intended. This one, we are starting with a dynamic that requires everything to change immediately. So I think we really want to establish that, how that immediate trauma plays out over time before we begin to get into the quotidian elements of any family drama.

Keyser: One of the issues with all episodic relationship dramas back in the old days is to be successful you need to do 100 episodes or 140 episodes. We were churning through plot, the really good ones, the slightly less good ones, sometimes repeating. Now we live in a world with 10-12 episodes a season. We’re going to pick and choose the very best stuff so you won’t see everything.

Were there things over 140 episodes you thought you don’t need this time?

Lippman: Of course, yeah. Even when we were making it, we thought we don’t need it. There were a few.

Would you tell the fans what some of those were?

Lippman: I think you learn for example what doesn’t constitute a story. I can remember at one point when we determined when the kids switch bedrooms, not a story. That’s not a story. We did a chicken pox episode, not a story.

Keyser: I know people say this but some of it’s just going to come from figuring out who our characters are based on who the actors are. What really works well? What do we care about? So we don’t go into it with too much of a game plan that goes too far. We’re working out what we’re thinking about for the first season but the pieces we’ll use, we’ll learn.

Does it change things also that these parents aren’t gone, they’re somewhere else?

Lippman: Exactly, trying to parent long distance as these families do.

So they’re a presence?

Lippman: They are absolutely a presence in the show. Yeah, they will return in some form, not to the United States but they’ll be present in the show.

Does it pose any opportunities for the kids to go south?

Lippman: Absolutely, except Emilio, the oldest, who is a DACA kid who can’t leave the country.

Does it change the element where Charlie had guilt over feeling responsible for his parents’ accident? Does that change with the circumstances of deportation?

Lippman: Well, I think we’re sitting on a story that will twist it and you will understand that he does actually carry some guilt about the parents’ situation. I’m not going to say more than that but yes. I think he will carry the weight of the burden of their deportation for a very specific reason.

Were there ideas for a Party of Five reboot before this issue made it so clear there was a way to do it?

Keyser: Generally people have said to us, “Maybe you want to do it again.” Often they would say in the context of putting it in another culture, so a Latino version of it, but even that was not enough for us to say it’s different enough from what we’ve done. We actually needed this moment to give us a reason to make this. We love the old one. We were okay with leaving it where it was until the world suggested the question of how families reconstitute themselves was not the stuff of things that came up in television, but what happened in the streets of American cities.

How did Michal join Party of Five?

Lippman: We wanted to bring in a writer who had a perspective that we didn’t have, growing up in a Latino family. We read a lot of writers and said, “Come join us.”

What are one or two specific things you were able to add to the pilot?

Zebede: So one of the things that this time around is different, obviously, since it’s a Latin family, there are certain elements that are a bit different. For example, in Latin culture, while the United States was going through a feminist revolution, Latin America was not. So there’s a lot of different gender roles and expectations is just one example. Also, the role of family in Latin culture is so much stronger that, for example, the idea that Emilio would be estranged, be living in Los Angeles but not participating in family dinners, has more meaning and more impact. So little things like that. Also just growing up in our generation, in 2019 there’s a difference between what it feels like to be Latin American and to have an additional identity in addition to American, being caught between two cultures. I was able to add that.

Is there a high school element where the kids go to school and maybe face discrimination and bullying?

Lippman: It’s not in the pilot but I think it’s stuff that we’re thinking about down the line. I mean, we were just picked up yesterday but it’s been such a fast process. Normally you turn in a pilot, you have months. We turned in our pilot on Friday so we’re still kind of feeling our way through it.

So that’s different from the Fox days.

Lippman: Yes, it’s very fast. Very fast. They said yes right away. It’s really nice actually.

Does feeling caught between cultures play into the high school aspect?

Zebede: Yeah, definitely. It’s [a] mixed [school]. Without revealing too much, we won’t tell these blatant stories about discrimination but it’s more subtle in terms of the way that people are treated a little bit differently, or maybe someone with different skin is treated a little differently or maybe if two people are in trouble and one is white and one is brown, there are sort of distinctions.

I hope this isn’t a tasteless question, but do the kids have any fun with no parents in the house?

Lippman: Absolutely.

Keyser: In the first episode.

When you introduced characters like Sarah Reeves, Jennifer Love Hewitt became a mainstay on the show. Are you able to introduce characters like that earlier now?

Lippman: I think we’ll see. Sometimes it just takes finding an actor that you want to keep on the show in some way, and then you begin to write for them which is what happened when Love came on the show. That relationship would not have lasted had we not found an actress we loved and wanted to work with.

Keyser: He had two girlfriends beforehand.

Lippman: One who died.

Keyser: One who died and one who just left.

That was a story.

Lippman: It was, it was a good story. It was a very good story.

Were you a fan watching the Fox show growing up?

Zebede: I love the original, yes.

Were there any stories or elements from that show that you want to make sure come back in this?

Zebede: Yeah, I think a lot of the characters are having parallel arcs. You’ll see a parallel between what went on in the lives of the original kids and what’s going on with these even though it’s not exactly the same.

Are there any more things we should know about this Party of Five?

Lippman: Not yet. The big step that we want to take is that it’s a new way of looking at what is a family? What happens to a family in crisis? What happens when kids on their own without parents in the house determine what the meaning of family is for them? Those are the questions we asked in the original.

Keyser: When you watch the pilot eventually, you’ll see it’s also filled with comedy and the kids’ lives, what Emilio is doing, what high school is like for Beto and for Lucia, what the restaurant is like for all the kids. That’s all in there. It’s not just a series of scenes about deportation.

Zebede: I’m glad that we’re also going to be addressing themes of othering, belonging, identity, how that plays into the experience of growing up in this day and age.

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