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January 05, 2017

One More Day

Netflix reimagines Norman Lear's classic One Day at a Time.

Iva-Marie Palmer
  • Michael Yarish/Netflix
  • Michael Yarish/Netflix
  • Michael Yarish/Netflix
  • Michael Yarish/Netflix
  • Michael Yarish/Netflix

When you ask her about work-life balance, TV writer/executive producer Gloria Calderon Kellett is quick to point out how men are rarely if ever asked the same question. 

The truthful, witty opinion (and she’s totally right, really) delivered warmly makes it instantly clear why Calderon Kellett was the perfect choice to launch the reboot of TV legend Norman Lear’s One Day at a Time, the updated reimagining of Lear’s 1974-85 CBS series that tackled the issues of the day from the vantage point of a single mother and her two teenage daughters living in Indianapolis.

In the Netflix reimagining, which launches with 13 episodes on January 6, the family taking it one day at a time is helmed by Penelope (Justina Machado), a nearly-divorced Cuban-American Army vet living in Los Angeles with her mother, Lydia (Rita Moreno), teen daughter Elena (Isabella Gomez) and pre-teen son Alex (Marcel Ruiz).

Calderon Kellett, who’s written for How I Met Your Mother, Rules of Engagement and Devious Housewives, as well as acting in and writing her own plays, said the show draws heavily from her own life (although she’s married to a  supportive artist husband and younger children, ages 4 and 8) and the life of her producing/writing partner Mike Royce (Everybody Loves Raymond).

Deadline Hollywood recently called the show a “poignant winner,” and it’s no doubt thanks to a producing team that – with Lear’s guidance – delivers the kind of one-liners and sharp performances Lear sitcoms are known for, mixing it with Lear’s trademark realism around money matters, family issues and gender roles, while focusing on a Latino family helmed by a single-mom Army veteran.

And as to the work-life balance question? Calderon Kellett easily says it takes a village but that it also helps to be the boss.

The One Day at a Time staff works hard, but you won’t see them pulling many all-nighters. Their families are what inspire the stories, and as Calderon Kellett said, “Mike and I really love our families and we like to go home to them. We like our staff to go home to their families. They inspire us.” In other words, home is where the heart is, and the art is.We recently sat down with Calderon Kellett to talk about the new show.

How did this come about, working with Norman and making this for Netflix?

Calderon Kellett: We’re calling it a reimagining as opposed to a remake. That was how Norman presented it to us. He really wanted us to tap into the spirit of the show as opposed to remaking the original show. He’s such a curious man, he loves to hear people’s stories, and he really wanted to do something centering on the Latino community. He did something in the ‘80s called AKA Pablo and it didn’t get picked up.

Since then he’s really fallen in love with our stories and community, which is lovely, especially since he’s a billionaire who could just sit in his mansion and put his feet up. But at 94, he is still really at it.

So his producing partner, Brett Miller, came to see if there was a reimagining to be done with the One Day at a Time title. He and Norman did a shotgun wedding with me and Mike Royce.

We sat down and talked and a lot of the story ideas came from my family and my actual life. Norman asked me about my situation and also what it would be like if I were divorced. My family is very involved in my life right now; it’s a very Latino thing. We’re up in each other’s grill a lot.

There’s also a working parent element, too. My parents both worked and I spent time with my grandmother after school and it was glorious for me. I loved it. I loved having that multigenerational upbringing, and my mother swore she would do the same for me. And she did. My parents moved to L.A. to help me with my kids.

Some people say, how does that work but I love it. And thank God my husband loves my parents. It works out for us.

So this is a version of your family, though with older children and a single parent?

It’s a version of me and a version of my mom (in Lydia) and the kids are loosely based on Mike Royce’s kids (who are teens). So we put that in a blender and wondered what is today’s modern telling? Our show is what came out.

Are you a veteran, too?

I am not. Norman is.

So was that something he wanted in the show?

Well, he is a vet: he served 52 combat missions in World War II. He’s really passionate about veteran’s issues, and he really wanted the soon-to-be ex-husband to be a veteran. Then, with a lot the people we were meeting, we learned they met their spouse in the military.

We thought, how cool would it be if [Penelope] was also a veteran, and we could tell veteran stories through a woman’s perspective, which we had not really seen. It was another way to look at stories we might not have heard of and it melded in a really beautiful way with the character.

It’s also interesting because her military experience isn’t the focal point of the show, but rather something she just has and lives through.

We’re really proud to be representing veterans in a positive way and as they want to be seen. Got Your 6 (a non-profit that unites nonprofit, government and Hollywood in veterans affairs and issues) did a lovely [upfront] event that I went to and the vets there were talking about how on television they’re either portrayed as heroes or PTSD messes, when there are so many colors in between.

They come back and they’re citizens and civilians and live wonderful productive lives and are moms and dads and so on. But they feel they’re not portrayed that way.

And as a Latina, I felt a kinship with that because on television we’re always shown as someone who’s going to screw you or going to screw you – the sexy vixen or the gangbanger. So it resonated with me and I thought, “Let’s do that.”

In even the first few episodes, you’re dealing with a lot of issues and vantage points: Latinos, veterans, single moms, child-rearing, teen girls’ questions around sexuality and feminism. Given everything that’s going on in the world, you have a lot of issues to choose from, so  how did you know what you wanted to nail in these first episodes?

We really wanted to talk about real issues facing families today. So we went personal. A lot of the stuff we’re dealing with on the show is stuff going on in our real lives with our families and our children. Certainly, the majority of the stuff that happens with Lydia and Penelope is largely happening with me and the stuff with the kids is largely happening with Mike and his kids.

He has an older daughter who came out this year. He and his wife are incredibly supportive and loving people and came from the perspective of wanting to do everything right as their daughter was trying to figure out who she is sexually and that became something we would talk about in the room. So it seemed like what a great opportunity to talk about in the show.

It’s really a personal thing for us, and not like we said, “This week’s issue is…” It came in a really organic conversation around what is the stuff we worry about with our kids?

Someone talked about finding porn on their kid’s laptop and what’s that conversation and so we did an episode about it. Those are the things really happening in our homes and we hope that it resonates with people and is reflective of American society.

So your writer’s room is not dissimilar from an average workplace where people might discuss their everyday lives but in this case you make it what you’re working on. Is [Lear] involved in that part, or did he tell you how he approached that before?

He didn’t want us to be tied to the original show except as an inspiration. What he does and what his voice has done – what all of his shows have in common – is they really deal with the real and don’t try to gloss over it. [His shows] try to present American families as they are, various colors, shapes and sizes.

He really is most concerned with being honest and having honest conversations. So that is where he would want to talk about things. He loved [an episode when] Elena was into climate change and social justice because that resonates with one of his daughters – who’s all over the internet, reading about the latest injustice and trying to fight it from her computer. And so he’s really more of a support, not telling us we have to do this or that.

Do you find the honest place where it comes from different from other shows you’ve worked on, or some of the more high-concept television that’s going on now?

Whether it’s that we latched on to a moment in time or not, we really wanted to come from a place of simple storytelling. Really sitcoms are just a live televised play. And I come from a playwriting background so being able to do a play in front of a live audience that someone can watch from the comfort of their own home like they were in a live theater is perfect for me.

It’s not cut-cut-cut/choppy-choppy/fun-fun-whoowhoo! It’s not that. It’s really these long scenes where we talk about a topic and these incredible actors get to breathe in it because Netflix gives us the luxury of time, so we don’t have to cut and cut. It’s all very real. We have no music on this unless it’s in the bar or background.

I find that, even though I love things like The Walking Dead, I’m watching more grounded family stuff and I think that’s because it’s where I’m at in my life. I think we’re a time in our country where we want to talk about some things and I’m very honored to have the platform to do that.

So, as you reimagined the show, how much did you look back on the old version?

We just watched the first two episodes and then we started to do our own things. The first two episodes of our show are sort of an homage to those first two of the original series. The second episode of the original series was also about sexism but it was different in 1975 than it is now. So we wanted to leave that behind and find our own way.

But it was really nice to have that as the launching point because the first episode of the original series, the older daughter is also giving her trouble with something and doesn’t want to do something. So we did sort of a light parallel to that with the relationship of Elena and Penelope and what they’re going through.

To the sexism note, given our recent election and the issues it raised, did that come into play?

We shot our show long before any of that happened. So Mike and I were doing our final edit after the election and suddenly it was so much more resonant than we even intended it to be. So it just goes to show so many of these things are universal themes that need to be discussed because they’re clearly ever present.

That’s the one thing that is a bummer – Norman would be able to see something in the news, write about it and it would appear on television the following week. We knew we were going to air in January and we couldn’t do election stuff. Certainly in season 2 we’ll do some aftermath stuff but we want it stand the test of times so we’ll be more general.

But I cannot believe how relevant that episode is. We thought we were just dealing with normal sexism but now it’s real real.

That’s interesting too because in times of struggle that’s when your art really speaks to it. You have a lot to work with. Latino issues also have gained more prominence.

Yes, gosh, there’s been so much about Latinos in this election. It makes me aware that people still don’t know who we are because there’s a lack of representation. So I’m really thrilled – I feel like if I could invite anyone, even a racist, into my living room to have dinner and talk to my family, I could change some hearts and minds.

So this is sort of my way of doing that, to inform the world that this is who we are.

The way we’re often portrayed on TV, and the perception is so wrong: I’ve never even met a gang member, it’s not a part of my world. No one in my family has ever been in jail. That’s not who I am. So it’s such a strange thing that that’s still such a perception because it’s not my reality at all. I’m excited to introduce people to my world, and I hope they’ll watch.

From The Interviews: performer Nanette Fabray, director Hal Cooper, and others talk about working on the original One Day at a Time series. Click here to watch.

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