‘Kids Are Alright’ creator shifts ‘juice’ from political to the personal

Posted at 11:59 AM, Oct 17, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-17 13:59:28-04

As a sitcom producer, Tim Doyle has a history of leaning into hot-button issues. He masterminded the “Ellen” coming-out episode in the late ’90s, and helped bring Tim Allen’s conservative politics into “Last Man Standing.”

Still, his new ABC show — “The Kids Are Alright,” a semi-autobiographical comedy looking back on his childhood, set during the summer of 1972 — has essentially been strictly controversy-adjacent, having landed the time slot after “Roseanne,” before it was canceled and then revived as “The Conners.”

One of the best-regarded pilots of the new TV season, “Kids” does touch on politics, with references to the Nixon administration, and an “All in the Family”-like divide between the oldest of the kids and their gruff, conservative father, played by “The Walking Dead’s” Michael Cudlitz.

The main thrust of the show, though, deals with “The Wonder Years”-like experience of Timmy (Jack Gore) — an alter ego for Doyle, who also narrates the show — as one of eight brothers growing up in a Irish-Catholic family during the ’70s.

Asked about the political parallels between then and now, Doyle noted that they would come up, as they do in the pilot, but that the focus would primarily be on the kids as they navigate the summer months, while their parents deal with the chaos of having them out of school.

“I love doing political material,” Doyle told CNN. “I’m always looking for where the juice is.”

In “Ellen,” that meant having her come out, after the show struggled to find storylines. “The show was more interesting that way,” Doyle said. “Similarly, with Tim Allen, he and I started arguing about politics when we met, and I thought, ‘Well, let’s do some of this.’ It gave the show a more focused identity.”

“The Kids Are Alright,” by contrast, derives its identity from the idea of a middle child finding his place amid a sprawling family in what was a different time. That includes the relationship between the parents (Mary McCormack plays the mom), whose “old-school marriage” might seem unevolved by modern standards, the producer noted, but which was “very loving on its own terms.”

Beyond the “Roseanne” controversy — and the roller-coaster ride about what show would precede his on Tuesday night — Doyle is prepared for “Kids” to be under the microscope for its politics, including a “fake news” reference in the pilot. But interviewed prior to Tuesday’s premiere, he also realizes that despite the high-profile lead-in, the show could land with a dull thud, given the difficulty of launching and sustaining new comedies.

“This thing can go either way,” Doyle said. “After November of 2016, I’m prepared for any result.”

Doyle added that the autobiographical elements aren’t as directly tied to his youth as, say, ABC’s “The Goldbergs,” but that he has drawn on his experiences, having been encouraged to plumb his childhood by development executives who he had regaled with those stories.

As for how his family will respond, the producer isn’t sure. “There’s a decent amount of curiosity from my various brothers,” Doyle said. “I always was sort of the black sheep of the family. They’re interested. They’re wary. I’m waiting to see how they react. Hopefully not with lawsuits.”

“The Kids Are Alright” premieres Oct. 16 at 8:30 p.m. on ABC.