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Recounting long lost memories
People are seeing their own experience reflected back at them in these characters, says Isaac Aptaker
This is us, a show that has you longing for a family was the brainchild of Dan Fogelman. Apart from creating ripples across the globe and taking the stars to new heights of fame, Fogelman also roped in good writers and gave new producers to the show business. Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger are individuals who do the double duty of writing and producing episodes, including the widely talked about one where Milo Ventimiglia’s patriarch Jack Pearson dies. They also penned the finale of season one and other important episodes.
In this interview, Isaac Aptaker talks about the show’s past, present, and future.He gets into details of working different timelines and what makes it appealing to all.
Does Dan Fogelman delegate sort of the day-to-day running? Is he as involved as you guys?
Yeah, he’s very involved. Elizabeth and I have been working with Dan for about eight or nine years in some capacity, whether it’s a movie or a different show. We all know each other very well and sort of have very similar tastes when it comes to writing in the show. So we divide up stuff. You know, he weighs in on everything, he reads every script, gives notes on every cut. He’s still very day to day involved in the show.
You have other seasons picked up already, did it change the dynamics in relation to the beginning of the show now that you can plan how stories will unfold?
What was so nice, is last year, NBC picked us up for season two and season three all at once. And, dfuring the first season of the show, we didn’t know whether we were doing 12 episodes or were we doing 24 episodes. We had no idea. But once we were told that we were doing 36 episodes spread out over two seasons, we have been able to plot it out so carefully and craft it almost like a novel where we know exactly where we want things to fall. Because we have our airing schedule for the next two years which really helps.
And presumably, with this show, that’s more essential than other shows because of the very complicated timeline structure.
Yes, because we’re jumping around so much, we have so many reveals, and characters’ lives. Really being able to look ahead and decide when we want to parse out information and dive into different stories have been helpful for us.
How do you manage all the family drama and the mystery?
I think we believe and care about these mysteries if you really are in love with the characters is what we found. Also the cast makes it easy. They’re all so incredible and so much fun to write for. But we come to it from a sort of a personal family place first. Pretty much every story starts with someone in the writers’ room or one of their friends or family members, you know, a real experience that happened to them, and then we kind of build out from there. So we’re never coming and going like, what’s a big twist that we can add in? That sort of comes in more organically from these real grounded stories.
Because you're afraid of the mystery being the focus.
Right, right. And to a certain extent, there’s going to be some people, and that’s fine, who are excited to find out. And we do, we definitely, we give clues, and that’s part of the fun of the show. But hopefully, people are getting more from that, that people are seeing their own experience reflected back at them in these characters.
This show has been probably the most successful network show for some years. To what do you credit that to?
If you look at the network, there hasn’t been sort of a quality family drama on for a while. And also, like, our country is in a bit of turmoil right now. I think there’s a lot of bad news, there’s a lot of division. Even within families, there’s a lot of division. And people, you know, we should be able to come home after work and turn on something on that reaffirms that even though we're flawed and we struggle, like humanity at its core is good and people are trying to do their best. I think that’s a really, a nice thing to be able to come home and watch on TV. And also, I mean, we never intended to, like, be the cry show. It just happened.
Is there a point where it’s not going to be too much? If someone is not watching for three weeks, how can you drag them back in with so much stuff happening?
The show is very serialised. It’s the kind of thing where if you miss a couple weeks. I mean, we do these previously on things where we try to pack in a week, two weeks' of content into 20 seconds. But yeah, it's something—I mean, we found that our fans are pretty loyal and tend to watch every week because it is so, you do fall behind so quickly. But yeah, it is the kind of thing that it definitely rewards people who watch closely.
You mentioned there hasn't been a quality family drama like this for a while, what is the thing you aspire to, the work you aspire to?
I think, in terms of worldview, at least — I mean, I’ll only speak for myself, but those guys I think are great. We do believe that people are inherently good. There's an optimism to sort of the stuff that we want to put out into the world. And so much of what’s on TV right now is a little bit bleak. You know, they’re wonderful shows. We love them and we watch them. But it’s like, Walking Dead and Breaking Bad, which I’m obsessed with, are great shows, but they don’t necessarily leave you feeling like, ah, people are great deep down. They’re a little bit darker.
(The season will be ending on March 24 on Star World )
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