Some might find The Fosters, ABC Family’s new drama about an interracial lesbian couple raising a mix of multi-ethnic children, controversial, but creators Peter Paige & Bradley Bredeweg say any debate takes a backseat when it comes the writing.
Written by Denis Faye
(July 12, 2013)
It’s easy to see why some might find ABC Family’s new drama The Fosters a little controversial. After all, a show centering around an interracial lesbian couple heading a multi-ethnic household filled with biological, foster, and adopted children breaks some seriously new ground.
But creators-showrunners Peter Paige and Bradley Bredeweg insist that the controversy takes a backseat to something more important – family. “We say it all the time; we are doing a traditional family show about a non-traditional family,” Paige, who’s also an actor with credits that include Queer as Folk, insists. “That's it, there's no more to it than that.”
So why “foster” all of this controversy? Because the team feels that if you’re going to take the time to write, it should be on topics that matter to you. “We only write about things that we really, truly care about or think that we could do some service,” explains Bredeweg. “We don't necessarily approach material in any other different way. We just know how to write what we love.”
Paige and Bredeweg took time out from running The Fosters recently to talk with the Writers Guild of America, West Web site about the show, their feelings about diversity in the writers’ room, and how sometimes the best way to deal with critics is to not deal with them.
The Fosters is a jump from your reality show, Fly Girls, which was about flight attendants. Can you help me bridge the gap between those two?
Photo: © 2013 ABC Family
Jake T. Austin (l-r), Teri Polo, Sherri Saum, and Cierra Ramirez in The Fosters.
Peter Paige: The reality show, to be honest, was kind of something we sold as a lark. It was just Brad’s two best friends from high school who were flight attendants who were always getting in trouble, and we thought, Oh, it seems like a reality show. Then we thought, I wonder if we could sell that? And we did. Then we didn't really have anything to do with that show creatively. We sold it, we walked away and went back to what we really do, which is to write and create scripted television. So that was an anomaly, not a destination for us.
Bradley Bredeweg: And it financed the development of the script to be perfectly honest with you. It gave us a nice round of paychecks while we were doing what we're really passionate about, and that is writing.
A lot of writers would like to have that kind of a grant. Taking on all these important topics, do you feel a sense of responsibility or is this simply an entertaining show?
Bradley Bredeweg: Probably a little bit of both, I would say.
Peter Paige: Yeah, I mean you always feel a little bit of responsibility. I personally feel that television is an incredibly powerful tool that needs to be wielded carefully. I've always felt that way. But really, at the end of the day you're just trying to come up with great stories and make a great hour of TV every week.
If you were writing some mindless thing, would your approach to tackling the show be different?
Bradley Bredeweg: I don't think so. The way we approach everything is to do it from a place of passion and a place of storytelling.
Have you had any episodes yet where you said, "This is pretty tricky stuff. Maybe we should walk away from this," or "This is tricky, therefore this needs to be covered"?
Peter Paige: We're more inclined to the latter. We tend to be guys to go, “That's interesting and people aren't really talking about that, so let's dive in and see if we can do something with it.” As long as it's coming organically out of the characters and situations we can get invested in anything.
It seems in The Fosters, even more than a lot of ensemble shows, you have a lot of really disparate voices. How do you make sure you represent them all properly?
Peter Paige: We just try to give them equal creative space in our heads. We just love these characters, so we're always looking at exploring different facets of them and if what comes out of that is this sense of really disparate voices, that's fantastic.
What's your writers’ room like?
Peter Paige: Small! Fantastic but tiny.
Bradley Bredeweg: We really do have the best writers’ room in town. We have it filled with just very lovely passionate people. We've got Joanna Johnson who's running the show with us who created Hope and Faith, who was a co-EP on Make it or Break It. She's fantastic. She's an out lesbian woman with a wife and adopted children so she has a lot to say about this world and brings a lot of passion for it. We also have a large diversity in the room, so we're a pretty great group of people.
Do you think that diversity [in the room] was necessary to represent the diversity on screen?
Bradley Bredeweg: Yeah, I think so, yeah.
Peter Paige: It helps. We would be remiss to not give people real, true, personal, interesting stories and translate those for the screen, you know?
How do you respond to those people who attack your show as anti-family?
Peter Paige & Bradley Bredeweg: We don't.
Peter Paige: We tend to take the position that we're putting a really beautiful portrayal of a loving family out into the world and if anybody is seeing it for anything other than that, well, that's their issue.
How are you going to keep this fresh? How are you going to avoid having to bring an “Oliver” in the show?
Peter Paige: The really great thing about the way the show is constructed, which we can't even really take credit for even though we did it, is that because we've got lesbian mothers, we've got biological, adopted and foster children all in our central cast, and an ex-husband, you can draw a line between any of those two characters and connect them and come up with a relationship that hasn't been explored in this specific permutation on television before. What's it like to be the biological son with four other kids running around the house? What's it like to be the father of the biological son? What's your relationship like to the foster kids who aren't yours but who you come into contact with on a regular basis? There's always something new to explore so we've got miles to go before we feel like we've got to bring in a dog.
Or a little blonde kid with glasses.
Peter Paige: Or a little blonde kid with glasses.
Do you see an arc for this show for a few seasons or would you like this to go on for 20 years?
Peter Paige: In our opinion, this is one of those shows that could run and run and run and run. It's built into the premise, these are women who are very committed to raising children and when there's room in the house and kids are off to college, you never know what the social worker might bring to the door.
Bradley Bredeweg: You also look at some of the most long-running series in television history, 7th Heaven, Roseanne, The Cosby Show, it's all based around a family. Family stories are endless, so for us this could potentially be one of those shows – if we're so lucky.