NBC's family dramedy "Parenthood" has gracefully walked the line between laughter and tears for four seasons. And while the series represents a traditional family by certain standards, it pushes the boundaries of honest, raw emotion and real-life situations and transitions that aren't always pretty -- such as breast cancer, PTSD, and abortion. The series, based loosely on the hit 1989 Ron Howard film of the same name, examines the relationships of three generations of Bravermans -- a large and dynamic Bay Area family. Howard is also one of the show's executive producers, along with Brian Grazer, Lawrence Trilling, and Jason Katims.
At PaleyFest 2013, Katims and members of the show's stellar ensemble cast gathered to share the inside scoop on their sentimental series. Cast members in attendance were Craig T. Nelson (Zeek Braverman), Peter Krause (Adam Braverman), Lauren Graham (Sarah Braverman), Dax Shepard (Crosby Braverman), Erika Christensen (Julia Braverman-Graham), Monica Potter (Kristina Braverman), Sam Jaeger (Joel Graham), Mae Whitman (Amber Holt), Jason Ritter (Mark Cyr), Joy Bryant (Jasmine Trussell), Miles Heizer (Drew Holt), and Max Burkholder (Max Braverman).
1. Will there be a Season 5?
Katims tossed this highly anticipated question off to Burkholder, who apparently is so hopeful that there will be, that he may have bought himself a Lamborghini to celebrate. He didn't confirm that purchase, but he did say, "There's no way to know until it's officially announced. But I'm crossing my fingers." So are the fans!
Watch a scene from the Season 4 finale:
2. The serendipitous circumstances around the cancer storyline
Potter has received tons of kudos for her portrayal of Kristina, who beat breast cancer in Season 4, but the circumstances surrounding the inception of this storyline are astounding. Potter had a mammogram in real life that resulted in a little scare. Shortly after, she reached out to Katims and suggested it would be a powerful storyline for Kristina. Katims said that when he heard her idea, he got the chills, because the writers had just written that exact storyline.
3. Heizer wanted to keep Drew's baby
Heizer petitioned Katims to keep the baby during the abortion storyline with his onscreen girlfriend Amy (Skyler Day). He even had Graham try to throw some weight behind his opinion. But Katims decided to stick with Amy's character going through with the abortion. Why? Katims said that abortion is dealt with a lot on TV, but characters don't often go through with it. "We always wanna try to say what would really happen. This one was particularly difficult." He emphasized that he really didn't want to politicize it, and that he partly felt that he didn't want to get too close to doing a bold story and then say never mind: "If we commit to the story, let's commit."
Shepard jokingly said that Heizer's character is welcome to take his and Joy Bryant's fictional baby (Jasmine revealed that she was pregnant in the Season 4 finale), which he repeatedly teased that he didn't want. Problem solved.
4. Is the goal of the show to make people laugh and cry?
Nearly every member of the cast chimed in when moderator Michael Ausiello asked what the deal was with all the tears on the show. Katims said that eliciting that response is not a conscious move, but it's taken on a life of its own -- adding that he and the writers cry while they create the stories, and he cries in the editing room. So it's not just the audience. Krause said that having someone watch a "Parenthood" episode is a good gauge of how emotionally OK a person is. "If you don't laugh and cry, then you might be a sociopath," he teased.
5. Italians love "Parenthood"
The first question during the audience Q&A came from an Italian woman who simply wanted to tell Graham how much she loves her. She even had a bouquet of flowers ready. Graham got up, gave her a smooch on the cheek, and accepted the yellow roses. Shortly after, Graham selected another audience member, and it turned out he was Italian, too!
He revealed that he wrote his thesis on "Parenthood" and Katims in particular. He said that for children, one of the hardest things in life is disappointing their parents, and that he was still dealing with coming out as gay to his family. "Parenthood" teaches people how to love, he continued, and he asked if a gay storyline was ever a possibility. Katims said that it's something that he would like to do and has thought extensively about, but it would have to be brought in naturally, as so many of the characters are established at this point. "I take what you're saying very seriously," Katims emphasized.
6. "Parenthood" is not as improv-ed as fans might think
Jaeger pointed out that a common misconception is that the show is significantly improvised. Not true, he said: The writing is just that strong and detailed. Katims added, "It's not just about the writing. It's about our amazing camera operators. They are in tune to the emotional life of the show." He said that they aim to bring the "Friday Night Lights" style of camerawork to "Parenthood," shooting with three cameras and shooting both sides of scenes at once. (Katims was the head writer and executive producer for "FNL.") "Actors can exist in the moment," he explained, and therefore, real moments happen that weren't written in or expected.
7. Big family camera drama
When asked by Ausiello whether filming the big family scenes is a nightmare, most members on the panel said they are superchallenging -- for the director! Scenes with the whole cast mean everyone's talking over each other, which makes it a borderline disaster for the director to work effectively. Jaeger explained it best, saying, "It's a party with a room full of alphas."
8. An ironic crossover
Ritter -- whose character, Mark, recently split from Graham's character, Sarah -- will soon be appearing on a new series, tentatively called "Friends and Family." And guess who his new love interest is? Alexis Bledel! You might remember her as Graham's daughter on "Gilmore Girls." When asked how she felt about Ritter having a romantic relationship with Bledel, Graham was a little freaked out, saying that it was like a bizarre crossover show. She then continued by saying, "They'll work great together. Makes so much sense." Unfortunately, it sounds like Ritter's character won't be returning to "Parenthood"; as Graham said, "Mark and Sarah won't be back together."
9. Will more "Friday Night Lights" actors guest star?
Katims hopes so! The number of "FNL" actors who've guested on "Parenthood" is now up to six (Matt Lauria, Minka Kelly, Michael B. Jordan, Derek Phillips, Angela Rawna, and Jeff Rosick). Katims said that it's not even an intentional move. Basically, the writers come up with the character, then they suggest a real actor, and often it's someone from "FNL," Katims shared, and that's when he calls the chosen talent and begs.
10. Did an audience member just insult Katims?
An audience member stood up and asked the panel how Max's autistic storyline came to be. She also said that she's an actor who works with autistic kids, and that during every episode, she wants to jump into the screen and save Max from his family. Max said that question should be answered by Katims, who dryly said that his son is autistic. She didn't take the hint and finished off by suggesting that he contact her if he needs any help. Awkward!
Season 4 of "Parenthood" wrapped on Jan. 22, and it has yet to be confirmed for another season.