Previewing The CW’s SIGNIFICANT MOTHER with series star Josh Zuckerman

Photo Credit: Vince Trupsin

Photo Credit: Vince Trupsin

Tonight at 9:30/8:30c on The CW, new comedy SIGNIFICANT MOTHER premieres following an all new episode of WHOSE LINE IS IT ANYWAY?.  The show (which was initially developed as a web series to air on The CW’s SEED, their digital studio / incubator for new comedy, before being ordered straight to prime time series in April) follows Nate (Josh Zuckerman), who the network calls a “budding restaurateur” who “returns from a trip and learns that his best friend has started dating his recently separated mother, Lydia (Krista Allen).”  Jonathan Silverman pops up as Nate’s dad, who is determined to win Mom back.

To celebrate the premiere, and to talk about why this show has the makings of a hit, I spent some time chatting with series start Josh Zuckerman. We talked how the show came together, how it made the leap from internet to TV network, why we all will love, and what comes next!  Read on for more!

So talk a little bit about SIGNIFICANT MOTHER. How long ago did this process start for you?
I can tell you about my involvement – it began about a year ago, about a year and a couple of months ago. I was shooting a film in Louisiana, in New Orleans, and I had literally just finished a scene on this film, my last scene of the film, and I called my manager and i said “now what do I do? I’m unemployed again, which is the case with an actor, when you finish a job.  She said, well, actually, you’re not – we just got an offer from Alloy Entertainment, which is the production company behind SIGNIFICANT MOTHER. I had worked with them in the past on a film called SEX DRIVE.  They knew my work, they knew me.  Apparently, they had been pitching to CW for some time and they had used my photo or something on their pitch board, and so when The CW said, yeah, we want to do it, but we want to do it as a web series for our development side, which is what they call The CW SEED where they can develop shows and see if they could be successful, so when my manager found out about that, she said, you know, we’d like to offer it to Josh, he might be interested.  So they did that, I read the script at the time; there were three scripts.  They were kind of like a beginning, middle, and an end of a season.  Each script was 30 minutes long, and would be cut up in two half segments, so about 6 episodes, really 3 episodes on TV and 6 episodes on the internet.  So they did that, and they sent the scripts over, and I loved it.  I said, I would absolutely love to do this, and that was about a year ago.  Moved to Portland soon thereafter, and shot it and waited around for a while before The CW decided, you know, we’re not even going to release it on The CW SEED, we’re just going to order it to series and order 6 more episodes.

That is definitely a sign of confidence from the network that they don’t have to see how it performs – they trust that it will work right to TV.
Absolutely!  That was the pipe dream, from the beginning.  Well, initially, that it would show online and people would like it enough and they’d go “oh this should be an actual series on our network” but the fact that it never even made it to there, they kept it within the family, and then decided, is even more exciting.  It’s better than the pipe dream because that means that nobody has seen it yet.  There’s this secret project that we haven’t really shared with anyone, and it could not have worked out better.  It’s an amazing result.  Yeah, a huge vote of confidence from The CW that they think “We don’t even need to see how this plays on the internet.  We know people will enjoy it, so let’s put it on our network.”

So on the show itself, your character comes home to realize that your best friend is dating your mother.  What’s the show as you can tease it to people?  What are you saying to people when they’re asking “Why is this a show I should be watching?” or “What is this show?”
I think when people ask me that, I say the writing for one.  The writing is so funny on so many different levels.  To me, the show plays like a really fun, almost like a romantic comedy, because it’s got so much charm.  We also have this amazing cast – I don’t know how we ever hooked in everybody that we did, from the get go.  Even when it was a web series, we had this killer cast.  I’m working with these people every day, and I’m seeing what they’re doing, and everybody is just delivering on writing that is just funny off the page, and then they add more to it.  It’s really a joy, it brings a smile to your face to watch.  Beyond that, what I think is really smart about our show, and really makes the comedy more fun, is that it’s written in such a way that every character has a very specific and caring relationship to the others. That’s what makes the main dynamic between my character Nate and his mom, and his best friend, really difficult but really fun, is the conflict.  The conflict is so rich that they really care about each other.  I really love my mom, I really love my best friend.  I hate what they’re doing, but I gotta figure out how to negotiate that and I want what’s best for them.  They want what’s best for me, but they really like each other, so you know, it’s a lot.  There’s just really, really rich conflict, and that’s found in every character. I think what it allows us to do, and get away with, is this heightened comedy that is just so delicious to watch. You believe it in spite of its sometimes absurdity, we really go to great lengths, because it’s grounded in the truth of these really rich relationships.

And I like that you point that out – other shows, different ways that this could be handled, where Nate and his mom have a great relationship, but it’s just some guy, and not someone who means anything to Nate.  Now we get to invest in every relationship.
Sure!  The other thing about it is because they might be overreacting to things or making these terrible decisions, it’s grounded in the believability of the relationships.  We also really love the characters because they’re openly really good people.  So they can do absurd things and we love them for it, because everybody is do damn charming!

You mentioned it being similar to a romantic comedy – are there other shows or comedies you could compare it to?
Initially, I think the two things that I’ve heard it reminds people of are NEW GIRL and MODERN FAMILY.  I know sometimes there’s some heightened comedy with those shows, but it’s often played very believably and matter of fact.  I think that from the get go, in every episodes, there’s some sequence or something that’s a little more heightened than everything else in the episode.  I really indulge in that, really have a lot of fun with that.

With a show that starts as something that will be an online series, is there a different approach to making it? 
No, I don’t think I would have approached it any different had it been initially a network show.  What’s on the page is what you put your effort into, and that wouldn’t have been very different had it been network, other than there may have been more network notes and things like that.  The script may have been tweaked a little bit.  But other than that, no.  That’s the other thing about it – we never treated it as anything that “deserved” to be, not that the internet is a step below the network, but we treated it as something that deserved to be as good as it could be.  We know what is on the page; we know how good it could be.  So everyone always, every day, every scene, scene to scene, put their best foot forward and came up with ideas and really trying to make it better any way we could.  I think it really paid off.

It’s coming at a great time for comedy on the network with shows like JANE THE VIRGIN and new series CRAZY EX-GIRLFRIEND.  It’s another sign of support that this show will stand among those.
Yeah, absolutely!  I know that our lead-in is WHOSE LINE IS IT ANYWAY? and it’s very exciting to think that we are part of a branding or a broadening for The CW.  Especially because of the success of JANE THE VIRGIN and how that is very funny.  I think they put it in the comedy for award shows.  Because of that, that’s kind of granted us a nice path to follow, it’s kind of blazed the trail and we were given a lot of support because of that. It’s a great place for us to be as a show, and it’s also exciting because we’re hoping that we can continue to be a part of that broadening of people’s expectation and characterization of The CW.

Do you have other shows that you watch all the time, can’t miss on a weekly basis?
Oh…yeah…[laughs].  I’m a big GAME OF THRONES nerd, as a lot of people are.  I also liked this Netflix show DEREK, the Ricky Gervais show?  Just particularly, a very unique show.  I’m trying to think what else I binge watched recently.  I used to binge watch BREAKING BAD when that was on.  God what a great show!  I was talking to somebody recently, and were comparing BREAKING BAD to something else that is on, and a little chaotic. We were saying how BREAKING BAD really earned all of the chaos and really made sense. Some shows are just chaotic for the sake of it, but BREAKING BAD, just literally made sense, in spite of its chaos.

What else do you have besides SIGNIFICANT MOTHER right now that you want to talk about?
I did that film, still hasn’t come out, this MIND PUPPETS film I did in New Orleans and that’s a feature comedy that’s really about 5 people who get hypnotized with particular comedic characters. One guy thinks he’s the messiah coming to save the world; another guy thinks he’s a pregnant woman, and the hypnotist has a heart attack and goes into a coma so they’re stuck in this hypnotic state, and they go around running amok in New Orleans, and then my character is enlisted by the daughter of the hypnotist to go and corral them in this ambulance; he’s an ambulance driver.  So there’s that film, and I’m not exactly sure when that’s going to be released, and then right now, we just got back from filming about two and a half weeks ago, and we started rehearsals for a play that we opened [two weeks ago]. We’re running that through August 14th, meanwhile trying to promote as much as possible SIGNIFICANT MOTHER. It’s a great play [called COCK by Michael Woolson]!  It’s a really good production; I’m really excited about it!

SIGNIFICANT MOTHER airs Monday nights at 9:30/8:30c on The CW!