Katims, left, with the cast of About a Boy.
Jason Katims is a man burdened by his nearly unparalleled skill at making people cry over fictional characters. From 2006 to 2011, he helped bring to life the perfect-but-flawed people of Dillon, Texas on Friday Night Lights (and ultimately won an Emmy for writing the series finale); since 2010, he's been ripping out hearts and single-handedly sustaining the wine industry as the executive producer and showrunner of NBC's Parenthood. And starting this weekend, he'll be entering the sitcom arena with a TV adaptation of Nick Hornby's novel About a Boy, which premieres Saturday, February 22 after the Olympics before moving to its regular time period on Tuesday nights.
In true Katims fashion, he wants to do more with About a Boy than just make you laugh; he also hopes to reach into your chest cavity and squeeze the cold, damp rock that used to be your heart. Set in San Francisco, About a Boy follows stunted man-boy named Will (David Walton) as he begrudgingly forms a relationship with his two new neighbors: high-strung single mother Fiona (Minnie Driver) and her son Marcus (Benjamin Stockham). I recently caught up with Katims at the Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour, where we chatted about his decision to produce a half-hour comedy, what we can expect from About a Boy, and the future of Parenthood.
You've most recently worked on two successful hour-long dramas; what made you want to do a half-hour comedy?
I've always wanted to do a comedy, and I actually feel there's always a lot of humor in my shows. [In] Friday Night Lights—even though you'd never say in a million years that it's a comedy—there's light humor in it if you look at Billy Riggins, and Buddy Garrity, and those guys. Similarly in Parenthood, so many of the Crosby storylines could be storylines for About a Boy. I feel like there's been sort of humor and comedy through all the shows. But I have wanted to do a half-hour [show], and the question was always [about] finding what the sweet spot would be for me to do one. When the idea of About a Boy came up I thought, "Well this really fits because it does feel like a comedy, but it's so character-driven, so much about the relationship, [and] about the situation."
I thought I could bring a show that's funny, but also has heart, and [makes] you really fall for the characters... It's maybe not quite as many jokes per minute as you're typically seeing in shows, but that's what I love about it. What you sort of gravitate to when you watch the show is the relationship between Will and Marcus, between Marcus and his mom, [and] between Will and Fiona. You're really drawn to those relationships as opposed to feeling like you're barraged with a lot of jokes.
Since About a Boy is based on a book and a movie, do viewers need to be familiar with the source material to watch it, or is it going to stand on its own?
I think it's so clear from the pilot what the show is about. Really at the core is this relationship between Will and Marcus, and then it sort of expands out to when Marcus's mother comes into the picture. I feel like you get that right away. You definitely don't need to know what it was in order to enjoy the show.
Leslie Bibb's character Dakota, who has a fling with Will in the pilot, seemed to be kind of forgiving of his transgressions; is she going to appear in future episodes?
She's going to come back. She's a guest-star on the show, she's not a series regular, but she will come back. We knew when we cast her in the pilot that she might or might not be available to do further stuff, but she has been. She's done two additional episodes so far that are coming up early in the season. It remains to be seen whether she can do more, but it's great to have her on the show because she's so great, and she lends a really great contrast to Fiona's character. One of the things that we're doing with her character is, while we introduced her completely through Will's character, we're actually doing stories where she gets to know Fiona, too. It's such a great dynamic. They're such opposites, it's really great to watch them together.
Did you film the pilot in San Francisco?
We filmed partly [in Los Angeles] and partly in San Francisco. We actually only had one-and-a-half days in San Francisco, but because we got those shots on the street and [the bridge], I think you really got the feeling of being there. Also it was really nice having Jon Favreau direct the pilot, and I think he really helped to give it that sort of cinematic feeling. I feel like when you watch the pilot, it feels like it's more than just another show.
David Walton appeared in the recent Parenthood episode "Jump Ball." Was he playing Will from About a Boy? Are we going to see any possible crossovers?
He was playing his character, good catch. Just as Crosby and Adam have a poker game in Parenthood, Will also has a poker game in About a Boy. So the plan is that Dax Shephard will make an appearance as Crosby this year in About a Boy as well.
While we're on the topic of Parenthood, NBC what do you think the chances are that it'll be back next season?
[That's] a better question for [NBC chairman Bob Greenblatt] than for me (laughs). Obviously we're all raring and ready to go and do hopefully at least another season of the show. I think that the one thing about Parenthood is that, while it's never been a huge out-of-the-box hit, it's always been solid. We've always kept our audience. And even with the move to Thursday, which was obviously tougher in terms of the competition we were facing, and the numbers aren't what we were hoping they would be at he beginning, but we've started to build back our audience. Also, the DVR numbers are very strong and have always remained very strong. We have a very, very committed audience to the show, and hopefully that will be enough to bring us back at least for another year.
So would you be running both shows?
Yeah, I'm doing both shows now, so I would continue to do both shows. If that were to happen next year I might have to amend my resolution to not have any caffeine anymore (laughs). I might have to make some moves in that area.... [With] Parenthood, I'm so deeply attached to that show I would never leave it as long as it was on. That said, we have such a great team and the show runs so smoothly that I feel like I have a lot of help in making that show. Yeah, I definitely would stay with both shows.
Is there anything else you want tease about About a Boy?
First of all, it's exciting to get the time slot that we have. I think we're going to have a good chance to get people to sample the show. To me, what I find charming about the show is that it is a show where you fall in love with these characters, you feel like you've connected with them. There's this great quirky kind of relationship between Benjamin Stockham (Marcus) and David Walton (Will), and I think that there's something so life-affirming about it. You watch these episodes and you're really rooting for these people to kind of make this family even though they don't really want to make a family. Other than Marcus. Marcus is thrilled with it.
I feel like what we're going to be able to do over the first season is do episodes that are sort of closed-ended and sort of satisfying within each story that we tell. But also, what's cool about it is, as you watch over the course of the season, these characters do evolve and they do change. We see Will—who thought he would live his whole life single—fall in love with somebody unexpectedly, and watch how that plays out, not only in that relationship, but how it relates to his relationship with Marcus and his relationship with Fiona. I think that kind of stuff is really good.
The one other thing I would say is that with the Minnie Driver character, the character in the movie is great, but the character was very distant from the main plot, and we've adjusted things in our version of it. Fiona lives next door in this house and they're constantly in each other's lives, and I also think there's a great relationship between Will and Fiona that we'll see slowly start to build over the season. I don't mean relationship like relationship relationship, but just in terms of how they wind up—against both their wishes—co-parenting this kid without ever admitting to each other that that's what they're doing. I think it's really sort of touching.
When it comes to the movie and the book and saying "Why would I adapt this?" I think there are those movies and those books that you see and you like and that you enjoy, and then you move on to the next thing. And then there are those that you feel like get in to your bloodstream. You see something and you really connect to it. And that's what [About a Boy] was to me.
About a Boy premieres Saturday, February 22 at 11pm on NBC, after that night's Olympics coverage. It moves to its regular time period of Tuesdays at 9pm on February 25.