There is a new kind of comedy series on ABC,”KEVIN (PROBABLY) SAVES THE WORLD” and if you’re not watching it, you are really missing out. I have been watching from the pilot, and really loving it. Was it cutie Jason Ritter (Parenthood) that first got me to watch? Maybe, but it’s the laugh out loud moments, and heartwarming story that keeps me tuning in each week.
ABOUT THE SERIES
Kevin Finn (Jason Ritter) is not a good person. He’s not terrible, but he’s selfish, and clueless, and values material wealth and status over all else. And he’s beginning to realize that those things aren’t making him happy – in fact, he’s fairly miserable. Just when things seem to be at their worst, he finds himself tasked with an unbelievable mission… saving the world.
On a dangerous path of despair, Kevin returns to his childhood home in Texas to crash with his widowed twin sister, Amy (JoAnna Garcia Swisher), and teenaged niece, Reese (Chloe East). It is a strained homecoming – he and his family have grown apart over the years – and Kevin has no real hope that anything will get better. But a series of fantastic events, including a meteorite landing near the house, lead Kevin to meet an unlikely celestial guide, Yvette (Kimberly Hébert Gregory). Yvette delivers incredible news to Kevin: in every generation, there are 36 righteous souls on Earth whose mere existence protects the word. Kevin, she tells him, is the last of the 36 righteous. Humanity has been thrown into crisis. Without the 36, the world will begin to lose the one thing that allows us to persevere through the ups and downs of life: hope.
Now Kevin has a mission, whether he wants it or not: “power up” his soul through acts of kindness and selflessness, so that he can eventually find and anoint a new generation of righteous. Yvette will serve as his protector and teacher, a drill sergeant with divine authority, even if she’s the least angel-like person he’s ever met.
When I first saw the trailer and read about the premise of Kevin (Probably) Saves the World, I thought it sounded ridiculous, and definitely not a show I would enjoy. Much to my surprise the series is filled with well written moments that we all can relate to. Even if you’ve never touched a meteorite. Kevin (Probably) Saves the World is hilarious, thought provoking, and a great conversation starter. In-fact, our teenage daughter that typically doesn’t watch much television has been watching it with me. Spending that time with her is something I look forward to each week. This is a series about changing your life for the better, and helping others. About putting people before material items. A positive experience for the whole family, and for the life of me, I can not figure out why ABC is airing it at 10:00 pm.
This is the perfect time for a lesson about the incredible rewards you reap by simply being generous to others.
-Yvette [to Kevin]
You look at the worst people have to offer and only see the good.
Emily: I, uh, I’ve never met anyone like you. Everything in my life seemed dark and hopeless and now I see a tiny light
Kevin: You mean me? I’m the light.
During my recent visit to L.A. we had the opportunity to enjoy dinner, and live tweet the east cost episode of Kevin (Probably) Saves the World. Followed by a group interview with the show’s Creators & Executive Producers Michele Fazekas & Tara Butters.
These two women (Michele Fazekas & Tara Butters) are rock stars! Their hustle is strong and they are making things happen, opening doors for future women in arts & television. Writing, producing, and show running. I am in awe, and could have talked with them all night long. #ABCTVevent #KevinProbably #womenintv #womeninfilm #tv @kevinprobablyabc
Most recently, Fazekas and Butters served as executive producers/showrunners on both “Marvel’s Agent Carter” and “Resurrection” on ABC. Prior to that, they created The CW cult hit “Reaper” and served as writers/producers on “Law & Order: SVU” for five seasons, during which time they received two Writers Guild nominations.
Fazekas and Butters recently signed a new three-year overall deal with ABC Studios, under which their F&B banner, a writer-friendly pod, has been based for the past four years. They have also developed pilots for the CW, CBS and Fox, in addition to having served as writers on series such as “Terra Nova” and Joss Whedon’s “Dollhouse.”
Below is some of the highlights from our interview;
Q: There is reference in a couple of the episodes that is there’s someone working against them. Will we learn more about that this season?
MF: We sort of explore that with Will Sasso a little bit more and talking about what that means. So, yes.
Q: I watch the show with my daughter, one of the things that she mentioned is that the scene that makes her laugh out loud the most is when we can’t see Yvette and we see Kevin talking to himself. Have you thought about adding more of those, like maybe, even just clips at the end of each episode with the credits?
MF: Oh, I would love if they would let us do that.
TB: In last week’s episode, we had what we called the puppet fight… watching those dailies were absolutely insane, because we shot it all with Kimberly doing all the moves with him and then we shot it without her. And Jason’s ability at physical comedy– and, like I grew up on Three’s Company. I think that Jason is his own person. And I think what he brings — I wanna say he’s better than his father (John Ritter). But, I think he brings everything that his father had but even a grounded realness to his performance. But you see his dad in him and it’s crazy.
MF: The director of the pilot had him do a scene. It was a scene when they were talking in the diner. And usually when you do a scene where somebody’s invisible, you would shoot the scene and the person is just off camera saying the lines to him. So, somebody is there saying the lines with him even though you don’t see [that person]. Well, the Director, Paul McGuigan, goes, can you just do it without hearing the lines? So, basically just doing the lines in your head. And Jason’s like, yeah, I think I can do it. He did it so well that the crew gave him an standing ovation, ‘cause he’s so good. He knows his lines and the other person’s lines, and so they do that a lot. But I also don’t wanna go to that well so much, because then I think it gets kind of old.
TB: Mm-hmm, right.
Q: I’m curious where the idea for the show came from.
TB: What was weird is we have a deal at ABC Studios. So, we’ve been here for several years. We did Agent Carter for them and then a show called Resurrection before that. And we had had a different pilot, actually a pilot that was kind of more tied to Disney IP (Intellectual Property) and everything. And we had been working on that and because of various things that happened, we ended up having to shelve that pilot. And it was actually literally the day after the presidential election that our pilot went away.
MF: Well, at the time we were like, well, let’s just rewrite something.
TB: Write something for ourselves.
MF: We’ll just write a spec (a speculative script) and maybe it’ll be a cable thing.
TB: But part of it was like, what we walked away from this past year was, there’s just a lot of people who are unhappy — and don’t feel good about where they are in their life, and that they don’t feel heard. And I think we kinda took that as something as inspiration – it felt like people needed something that just came from a good place and kind of reminded you that little acts actually do add up and that you can have — you can do one thing and that might inspire somebody else to do a good thing
MF: Well, after that year of campaigning — it’s really easy to find ugliness in the world. You don’t have to work that hard. Go onto Twitter. Go onto a message board on a news website. So, that’s super easy to find. And so, I think part of us was like let’s just do somethingMF : And we always like sort of blending genres and sort of elements of wonder and mysticism. And we met as assistants on the X Files. And even on Agent Carter we, we were blending comedy and drama and we’ve written and we were on Law and Order SVU …
TB: For five years.
MF: That’s a dark show. I have nothing against that — but it’s like I’ve done that. I don’t need to do that again. And we always like sort of blending genres and sort of elements of wonder and mysticism. And we met as assistants on the X Files. And even on Agent Carter we, we were blending comedy and drama. Action and adventure all in the same show. And that’s not always an easy tone for people to understand. Like, even with this show, I think people didn’t know what this show was. And it was hard even for ABC to sort of package it. So it’s just like just watch it and you’ll get it when you watch it.
MF: It’s kinda hard to encapsulate what this show is. But we had been working on sort of our cable idea, and then somehow it got back to ABC that we were working on a pilot. And the guy who runs our production company said to them, yeah, well, that’s not for you. And he wasn’t being cute, but I think as soon as you say that to someone they’re like, “Wait, it is for me!”
MF: So, we get a phone call. They’re like can you pitch that at six o’clock today? We’re like, no, we don’t have it! What are you talking about? So, we sorta got a pitch together and we pitched it to him. And they’re like, yeah, that’s not for us. I’m like I know. It’s not. But they’re like but we kind of like something in the area. So, we worked up a pitch in like a week, and pitched it to ‘em real late in the development season. And they bought it over the phone. And so we had six weeks to do an outline and a script. I think they too were kind of looking at the world, and they looked at their slate, and they’re like all we have are real dark stuff. I think people might be tired of that or might want another option. So, it happened quick. And then we picked up. We’re gonna shoot a pilot. And Paul McGuigan wanted to direct it, and he’s amazing. And then we see Jason Ritter’s name on a list of actors. We’re like ohh. And I had just seen…I don’t know if you ever watched Drunk History. It’s so ridiculous, but I love it. I had seen him on Drunk History. I know he’s real funny. And I know he can act dramatically. And he came in and did a screen test. And we’re like, oh, there he is. I mean he’s exactly him, and then sort of everybody fell into place. And part of the whole idea of the 36 righteous [people], that comes from the Talmud actually, like sort of Jewish mysticism. Very, very loosely based. Like, we took a little bit of that and then sort of made our own rules for it.
MF: There’s another concept that I’d heard about while we were breaking the pilot. And it’s a concept called metanoia, which is a theological term that means, literally means to see the world through new eyes. And the concept being you can’t actually — one person can’t change the world, but there is a transformation thing that happens when you see the world through new eyes where it actually does change the world. It’s kind of a weird concept to think about, but I liked that that’s sort of what happens to Kevin. When he decides to see the world differently, the world is different. And I kind of like that as a way to approach life. So, I mean that’s kind of a long answer to how it we came up with it..
MF: I don’t think we would’ve sold this pitch in June when usually people pitch, because I think it’s too weird and people would’ve been like, mmm, but where’s the cop show and where’s the drama? I think it happened the way it was supposed to happen.
TB: The other one little thing is that both of us are parents, and I have a 12 year old and a ten year old.
MF: Eight and six.
TB: I wanted something I can watch with my kids and that we could both sit down and enjoy. Typically what happens is tomorrow morning my girls get up at six o’clock in the morning. We come downstairs and we watch it before school.
Q: How far out have you thought the story though?
TB: Like, year by year, I think, you’ve gotta.
MF: But, I also know who the last righteous person is.
MF: I also feel when we pitch a show, we pitch the long, long arcs and then we pitch the shorter arcs. But you also have to sort of be flexible enough…and go sometimes where the story takes you and where the characters take you and where the actors take you. ‘Cause a lot of times the actors will bring something to the character that you didn’t expect, and it’s like I love that. Let’s incorporate that into the character.
Q: And going back to those surprises, what has been the biggest surprise collaborating with the actors and just writing, because it seems everything happens so quickly?
MF: One of the things that I love about somebody like Jason, because he’s got all the tools, he will throw himself around and throw his body around at the drop of a hat. Like, he will fall down – and he told us a funny story about when he was seven, he and his buddy thought that the most awesome job obviously was Hollywood stuntman. So, that’s what they were gonna be. But they thought in order to do that, all you had to do was just build up your tolerance for pain. So, he and his buddy would just like, hurt themselves. And I’m like, oh, God, your poor mother. I didn’t know that about him that he really will just throw himself around. So, we’ve incorporated that into it.
TB: And the chemistry between the characters.
MF: I think Kimberly Hebert Gregory, just where her character has gone and where she will go, has been unexpected. And I love it. She’s so great and she can kind of do anything. I will always laugh when she’s just annoyed with Kevin. She, again, can kind of go from really funny to really dramatic and emotional.
Q: Do you have any input on the music, because it’s really good?
MF: Yeah. So, there’s two different people. There’s a music supervisor who helps us pick the songs that we put in. She’s great. We actually had her on Agent Carter as well where she’s picking all these great ’40 songs. And so, she finds this interesting stuff. Blake Neely is our Composer. He was our composer on Resurrection. He’s so amazing. The way we work together is, ’cause we worked with him before, is he will score the entire show and then we’ll go to his studio and he’ll play the whole show for us. And then we’ll listen to each cue and we’ll give him notes on it. And I would say 50 percent of the cues are perfect, great, ’cause he completely gets the tone of this show.
I like music, ’cause I have a musical background. So, I can give annoying notes, like can it be an F sharp and not an F? And I’m like, “I’m really sorry.” That’s super picky, but he actually is appreciative of that. So, yeah, we get to have a lot of input on it. And it’s fun. But it also helps that he’s incredibly talented.
And then the nice thing is ABC — God bless ‘em — lets us have a live orchestra record everything, which makes a tremendous — I don’t even think you consciously know what a difference it makes, but you’ll hear it on his synthesizer and it’s amazing, and then you hear the real orchestra. And you’re like, oh, wow, I think that makes a huge difference. And I’m glad they do that, yeah.
Q:How many writers does this show have?
TB: We have like six writers.
MF: It’s a small staff. We had decided let’s have a smaller staff of more upper level writers, people that we knew who could deliver quickly.
Q: What is one of the weirdest, unexpected inspirations for writing a scene?
MF: Oh, that’s a really good question. Cause we know you can’t just sit and go hmmm. You have to like go out and live.
TB: And we have our group of writers, and it’s so funny how you start – someone pitches, and we’ll constantly say, okay, here’s a bad pitch. Here’s something that’s really either on the nose or you’ve seen it before. You might start there. And then someone spins it.
MF: I’ll tell a story from another show just to give you an idea. We did a show called Reaper like about ten years ago that was really a show about the devil. It was a comedy about the devil. It was on CW. Ray Wise was the devil; he was great. I’d come in once and I had just gone on vacation with my boyfriend, who is now my husband. And we’d gone to Hawaii. And we get to Hawaii and he’s brought three pairs of shorts for a week. I’m like what’s happening? And so, I come back to the writer’s room and there’s a bunch of guys, and I’m yeah, so, Vince brought three pairs of shorts. Every single dude is like, well, that’s probably one pair too many. I’m like what? Every single one was like three pairs of shorts is the perfect amount of shorts. And so, we ended up writing that into a scene where the two guys are talking.
It was Ricky Gonzalez and Tyler Labine. And Ricky is making up a lie to cover for something and he’s like, oh, I went shopping to buy some pants. And Tyler Labine goes, what do you need another pair of pants for? Who are you, Jude Law? And so, just little stupid stuff like that inspired scenes.
Q: How did your boyfriend slash husband feel about you incorporating that scene into that show?
MF: He always tells me don’t talk about me in the writer’s room. And I go I will literally always talk about you in the writer’s room. ‘Cause you have to. Everybody kind of talks about everyone. Even at the end of an episode where Yvette is going, “I want silence now. I don’t want you to talk to me.” That’s from Craig’s wife, Abby. If she’s mad at him in the car, she’s stop talking. I don’t want any talking anymore. So, it’s a weird sort of sanctity to the writer’s room where everybody knows that what is said in the writer’s room, you’re not going to share with other people.
TB: Unless you share it with millions.
MF: Yes. Right. Like my husband — we are gonna put it in the show: [he] cannot tie a tie. I have to tie his ties for him. And he was on TV as a network news correspondent, and he would have other people tie his ties for him. I’m like, I don’t know how you get through life. I think this is like some throwback to when you had a mohawk. You’re not punk anymore. Stop it. And so, we are going to put it in the script someday.
MF: The nice thing is we’ve worked long enough where we can just hire our friends. We have this policy — this sorta no a**hole policy. Like, let’s work with people who we like, ‘cause you spend a lot of time with them in the room. Let’s just work with people who have the same work ethic and humor and people we wanna hang out with. That’s the nice thing about being the boss is you get to pick those people.
Q: And talking about being a boss. This is an industry that has been evolving. It’s more diverse, but there are still a lot of steps that need to be taken. Do you feel that you have a responsibility since, in many senses, you’ve broken ground, because you’re very visible, you are the bosses of this show, and that’s not something that we were used to 20, 30 years ago?
TB: Absolutely. ‘Cause we hire all the directors. We hire all the writers. And this year I really like the fact that…in the first 13 episodes we have three or four women [directing]. And we were able to get Rob Hardy, a director of color. And that was of the first 13. It’s really hard on a first-year show, because, I wanna say I think it’s below 30 percent in the fact of diversity. So when you’re trying to even get 50 and 50 of your directors, it’s incredibly difficult just based on those numbers if it’s around 70 percent white male and 30 percent everything else. It’s actually an incredibly difficult task, because you also know that your first 13 episodes are what you’re putting out there to get [the show] picked up. So, you’re trying to find people with the most experience too. And, I have to say we were so lucky this year. I have been so happy with every episode. Every person has come in and brought their A game. And I really enjoyed the episodes. My hope is that all these directors will come back.
On working with Jason Ritter, after one of the bloggers mentioned that he was following along on Twitter that night;
MF: Oh. I know. He’s a great Tweeter. I was telling some people: he is exactly what you think he is. He is the kindest, funniest, hardworking guy, I could not love him more. How he presents himself to the world is actually how he is. There’s no kind of fake quality to him. He’s a genuinely good guy.
On working with Jason’s dad (John Ritter);
MF: Weirdly Tara and I worked with his dad. We wrote an episode of SVU that his dad was in. And he played a really bad guy. We were in Beverly Hills at the Starbucks on Beverly, and Tara sees him and she’s like, oh my God, we have to talk to him. And we — you know, when you live in LA you don’t go up to famous people, ’cause you see them all the time. But we have to go talk to him. So, we kinda went up to him and were like, hey, we wrote this for you. He was like oh, my God. You guys wrote that? You’re like Sex in the City. And he’s like you guys are sick. But he was so lovely. I just remember hearing the cast and crew on SVU loved him.
And I feel like Jason has that same quality. Here one of the crew members was saying the great thing about this job is I wake up every morning and I’m so excited, because I get to see what he does every day. And so, that’s nice.
How they do it all!
MF: As a showrunner, you have to be able to delegate. I feel like you have to be able to empower people to do their job. And so, the constant phone calls, constant conference calls. It all starts on Day 1 of pre production where they’ll have the script and you have the directors on board. And one of the writing staff will be out in Atlanta sort of coordinating from there. But it’s just being able to communicate. And so, we’re talking with production. We’re also back here, ’cause editing is back here. The nice thing is having two of us, we can sort of divide and conquer. And so you’re in editing. You’re in music. You’re in sound. You’re in color.
Ideally the editors, for instance, that we work with, really get the show and really understand the tone of the show. When you go into editing, it makes it a lot easier, because there’s not as much work you have to do. And that’s the ideal thing. It’s like if everybody is invested and everybody understands and has the same goal and feels like they contribute to it, I think everybody’s happier and everybody does better work. And if it makes my life easier, hooray.
Kevin (Probably) Saves the World” airs on Tuesdays at 10|9c on ABC. Episodes are also available via streaming and on demand.
“Kevin (Probably) Saves the World” stars Jason Ritter as Kevin Finn, JoAnna Garcia Swisher as Amy Cabrera, Kimberly Hébert Gregory as Yvette, Chloe East as Reese Cabrera, J. August Richards as Deputy Nate Purcell, Dustin Ybarra as Tyler Medina and India de Beaufort as Kristin Allen.
This week on Kevin (Probably) Saves the World
Guest starring in this episode are Will Sasso (“Modern Family,” “Family Guy”) as Dave, Anjali Bhimani as Susan Allen, Brandon Quinn as Ignacio “Iggy” DePerro and Alex Quijano as Matthew Torres.
“Dave” – Yvette has her reservations when Dave, another celestial being, pops up looking to join her and Kevin on their latest mission: Reconciling Kristin and her mother under the most challenging of circumstances. Elsewhere, Nate tries to work up the nerve to ask Amy out, completely unaware of her budding chemistry with a potential beau, on “Kevin (Probably) Saves the World,” TUESDAY, NOV. 14 (10:00-11:00 p.m. EST), on The ABC Television Network. “Dave” was written by Chris Dingess and directed by Ron Underwood.
Speaking with Michele Fazekas and Tara Butters was truly an honor for me. I am honestly in-love with this series, and hope you will watch.
Remember, if 10:00 pm does not fit into your scedule, you can find episodes of Kevin (Probably) Saves the World on demand and on Hulu!
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Disclosure: Travel, lodging, events, and meals during this trip were provided courtesy of Disney/Pixar, Disney Studios, & ABC. All opinions expressed are still honest and my own.