Disclosure: This post is part of my all expense paid trip to Los Angeles, CA provided by Disney, in exchange for coverage. However, typos, misspelled words and opinions are 100% mine.
Kevin Probably Saves the World Michele Fazekas and Tara Butters Interview #PixarCOCOEvent
Kevin Probably Saves the World is a new comedy from ABC, and you should definitely be watching it. As part of the #PixarCOCOEvent that I had the opportunity to attend, I had the privilege of taking part in an interview with Kevin Probably Saves the World creators and executive producers, Michele Fazekas and Tara Butters at the ABC building in Burbank, California. We sat and talked about the show, its inspiration, and how the cast and creators work together to bring us this touching show.
About Kevin (Probably) Saves the World
Unless you just never watch television – in which case, you’re not the person reading this – you’ve probably seen commercials for this show. ABC has been pushing it hard, and I’m so glad they did. I want this show to be around for a long time. Kevin (Probably) Saves the World is SO good! And while you’ve probably seen some snippets, I want to give you a little background on the show straight from ABC itself so you get an idea of the show’s premise.
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.
The thing that strikes me about this show is how family friendly it is. These days, prime time television is laden with sex, violence, and themes that the younger set just shouldn’t see. Kevin Probably Saves the World is one of those shows that touch on themes that we can discuss with our children while maintaining a mostly light-hearted feel that’s perfect for everyone in the family to watch together.
Talking About Kevin Probably Saves the World with Michele Fazekas and Tara Butters
On the Inspiration for Kevin Probably Saves the World
Tara and Michele had been with ABC Studios for several years, working on shows like Agent Carter and Resurrection. They had been working together on another pilot tied to Disney intellectual property, but due to certain circumstances that they didn’t go into, the show had to be shelves the day after the presidential election.
Michele said, “At that time, we were like, ‘Let’s just rewrite something.'”
“Write something for ourselves,” Tara said.
Tara went on to talk about the inspiration for the show.
“Part of it,” she said, “was like, 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. I think we kinda took that as something as inspiration – it felt like people needed something that 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.”
Michele went on to talk about looking for something positive and how they went about pitching Kevin Probably Saves the World.
“Well, after that year of campaigning,” she said, “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 something – and we’ve written – and we were on Law and Order SVU for five years. 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.
“We always like sort of blending genres and sort of elements of wonder and mysticism. We met as assistants on the X Files. Even on Agent Carter we, we were blending comedy and drama, action and adventure all in the same show. 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.”
They went on to talk about trying to get the execs to understand the premise of the show and the finding of the 35 righteous people who will help Kevin save the world. One important factor in creating the show, according to Tara, was the ability for families to enjoy the show together.
“One more thing is that both of us are parents,” she said, “and I have a twelve-year-old and a ten-year-old and Michele’s are eight and six. I wanted something I can watch with my kids and that we could both sit down and enjoy it. 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. They see rough cuts because my oldest read the scripts, but we’ll watch it on Wednesday morning, because we have to time shift, ’cause they don’t stay up till ten. It was important to us to have stuff that we could watch with our kids.”
On How They’ve Planned Out Kevin Probably Saves the World
The responsibility of Kevin is to find the 36 righteous people who will save the world, which could ultimately take several seasons. We wanted to know how far out Tara and Michele had thought out the story.
“Like year by year,” Tara said.
“I also know who the last righteous person is,” Michele said. “You do have to be somewhat fluid and flexible when you’re doing a TV show, I think. I don’t know if anybody here ever watched Battlestar Galactica, which always amazed me because stuff from season seven is talking about stuff in season one. It was like is that how Ron Moore thinks, because that’s insane.
“I also feel like when we pitch a show, we pitch the long, long arcs and then we pitch the shorter arcs. 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. We have a loose structure, and I know who the last righteous person is. We have sort of long arcs for the different characters. But you know, even then it’s like unless we get a better idea.”
On the Collaborating with the Actors in Kevin Probably Saves the World
“One of the things that I love about somebody like Jason,” said Michele, “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. I didn’t know that about him that he really will just throw himself around. So, we’ve incorporated that into it.”
“I mean, the thing is,” Tara said, “you (are) literally are casting almost blind dates where it’s like you cast everybody individually and you show up on the day of the pilot.”
“Jason and JoAnna Garcia are great together,” Michele went on. “Their interactions are so real to me. If you have brothers and sisters, you can say the meanest things to the people that you love sometimes and then you can say the most wonderful things to them. So, that feels very real to me.”
“I think Kimberly Herbert Gregory – just where her character has gone and where she will go – has been unexpected,” said Michele. “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.”
On the Unexpected Inspirations for Writing a Scene or Plot Device on Kevin Probably Saves the World
Michele and Tara both said that the inspiration for scenes or plot is a product of just sitting around the writers’ table and throwing things back and forth. It’s a big group of people just spitballing until something sticks.
“I’ll tell you a story from another show just to give you an idea,” said Michele. “We did a show called Reaper a few – 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. We get to Hawaii and he’s brought three pairs of shorts for a week. I’m like, ‘What’s happening?’
“I come back to the writer’s room and there’s a bunch of guys, and I’m like, ‘Yeah. So, Vince brought three pairs of shorts.’ Every single dude is like, ‘Well, yeah, 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.’
“So, we ended up writing that into a scene where the two guys are talking. It was like Ricky Gonzalez and Tyler Labine. Ricky is making up a lie to cover for something and he’s like, ‘Oh, I went shopping to buy some pants.’
“Tyler Labine goes, ‘What do you need another pair of pants for? Who are you, Jude Law?’
“So, just little stupid stuff like that inspired scenes.”
On the Changes in the Industry and How Women are Growing with Them
Michele and Tara have broken major ground on Kevin Probably Saves the World. They are writers and executive producers on a prime-time show, and that’s not something that would have even been possible a decade or two ago. They’ve been very cognizant of that and of the need to further diversify the industry.
“This year, I really like that fact that – in the first thirteen episodes – we have three or four women directing,” said Tara. “And we were able to get Rob Hardy, a director of color. And that was of the first thirteen. It’s really hard on a first-year show, because, I wanna say I think it’s below 30 percent in the fact of, 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. 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 for a full season.
“So, you’re trying to find people with the most experience too. 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.”
“Even as far as, like, the writing and stuff goes,” said Michele, “Like, we sort of learned how to be producers on SVU. We were there for five years. Neal Baer was running that show. He had come outta the John Wells camp. John Wells had this philosophy as we will train you to be producers, and that doesn’t happen on a lot of TV shows. You have this sort of other things where it’s like, ‘I do all things and no one else does anything,’ which I find annoying.
“I’ve worked with guys who don’t like their families, and so they stay so that means you have to stay. I’m like, ‘I’m not gonna do that.’
“We have this philosophy of, ‘We will train you how to be a producer. We will train you how to be a showrunner.’
That means – and that came from Neal, too, where the writer is involved from script all the way to Post-production. Even if the writer is 100 percent rewritten, they are still the sorta shepherd of that script, ’cause they know the script inside and out. And so, they will prep the script. They will go out to stay for production and we will bring them into the editing, ’cause I’ve hired co-executive producers, which is a high-level producer who’s never sat in an editing room. So you don’t really know how to do it unless you see it done. It’s not just me being magnanimous. It will make my life easier when you are now taking on that.”
Kevin Probably Saves the World is Changing Television and Its Landscape
The thing that really gets me about Kevin Probably Saves the World is not only the heart and soul of the show but the heart and soul behind it. Getting a chance to sit down and talk about the show with creators, Michele Fazekas and Tara Butters was a real eye-opener. These women are blazing a trail for young girls to follow in the future. They’ve created, executive produced, and written a show that is so full of heart that your heart will grow Grinch-style just from watching it!
Check out this featurette to see more of what “Kevin Probably Saves the World” is all about.
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