Best of the Fall TV Survey: Showrunners on Pilot Secrets, Dream Castings and More

Dan Fogelman, Jeremy Slater, Mike Schur and more reveal how they cast their lead, which actors they want to guest star and the craziest thing that happened while shooting their series' pilot.

  • Dream Guest Stars

Dan Fogelman (Fox's Pitch/NBC's This is Us): "I just did a movie with Al Pacino and I've been trying to find the right part in one of the shows where I could actually go to him and say, 'I have something worth your time,' and see if he would do it. This Is Us lives in the monologue — it's a bit like a stage play — and it'd be great to get Al to do a monologue. But he loves baseball and I was thinking of asking him to come do Pitch, but we haven't had the right thing. You want a part that's written for him and right for him and then you try to convince him."

  • David Guggenheim (ABC's Designated Survivor): "I'd love it if we got Donald Sutherland to come on and play his father or anybody. Or if i can get anyone who has ever played James Bond, I'd do that."

  • Jeremy Slater (Fox's The Exorcist): "John Goodman. Because John Goodman has never given a bad performance, and I assume that he's probably the single most wonderful person on the planet, and I'll fist fight anyone who says otherwise."

  • Jason Katims (CBS' Pure Genius): "The guest stars that really excite me aren’t necessarily the big stunts. For example, we were casting the role of Richard on The Path and I thought of Clark Middleton who I hadn’t seen since I wrote a play he was in in New York twenty years earlier. We cast Clark, he was amazing, and our creator Jessica Goldberg just kept making his role bigger and bigger. It started out as one scene and he’s become a central part of the show. Nothing beats that."

  • Secrets of the Pilot Shoot

  • Scott Silveri (ABC's Speechless): "Making Minnie [Driver] and John [Ross Bowie] shoot a shower scene at 4 a.m. outside in a mausoleum. That's where we shot the exteriors for the third act — our big fair — and because of boarding, the only time we could do it was that night. You're shooting with kids, so you have all these things to juggle. The only place we could find a big field where we needed to be was a mausoleum and the only place we could shoot that was outdoors in the middle of the night. Minnie, god bless her, we were shooting her up on the Ferris Wheel and I said, 'You're such a sport; thanks for being so game and keeping your energy up. I don't know how you do it.' She said, 'It could be a lot worse: it's late at night, I could be wet.' And I said, 'Have you not looked at the call sheet?! That's what we're doing next!'"

  • Guggenheim: "Our director, Paul McGuigan, had a baby in the middle of our pilot shoot. He left on a Friday night, raced home from Toronto and was there for the birth and a couple weekends with the baby and came back to finish the pilot. It was incredible."

  • Corinne Brinkerhoff (The CW's No Tomorrow): "We had a quick scene where Josh gets hit in the face with a strawberry milkshake, but our schedule was so tight that we had to get it in one take with a skeleton crew. We had no doubles on wardrobe, no backup — one chance only. [Co-writer] Tory threw the milkshake with such shockingly powerful accuracy, it knocked Josh's hat off his head. It was a triumph."

  • Slater: "We did shoot for several days in the favelas of Mexico City, though, where I got the chance to fire air cannons filled with hundreds of giant rubber locusts at poor Ben Daniels. If you ever get the chance to blast someone with locusts, I highly recommend the experience."

How Did You Choose Your Title?

Fogelman: "This Is Us was originally called 36, which is the age all the characters on the show are turning. I knew I didn't love 36 — it felt like thirtysomething, but I put it on the title page since I was sick of doing 'untitled Dan Fogelman.' At a certain point, it was a lyrical thing: I liked how This Is Us sounded and started thinking of the campaign: 'This is love, this is happiness, this is reality.' NBC was cool and went with it. For Pitch, I never had a title in mind. It was a communal effort with Fox and we wanted a title that said baseball but didn't alienate non-baseball fans. By the time we approached Major League Baseball, we had Pitch."

  • Shawn Ryan (NBC's Timeless): "In video village, while making the pilot, we learned that NBC thought our original title Time was too simple. So cold, wet and sleep deprived we started pitching alts to each other and when someone said Timeless we all looked at each other and said, 'That works.' Then we went back to warming ourselves by a heat lamp."

Katims: "The title of the show was originally Bunker Hill — but CBS felt that sounded like something between an old school Medical drama and a Revolutionary War re-enactment. So we changed the title the morning they announced the pick-up of the series."

How Did You Land Your Show's Star?

  • Guggenheim: "I'd written the script and we had gotten Mark Gordon Co. to be the studio behind it and they threw out Kiefer as a suggestion. I thought, 'Who are we going to go to when he says no, because I didn't think there was any way he was going to do it.' Then he read the script and responded to it. We had a great conversation and he was on board. It's still surreal."

  • Mike Schur (NBC's The Good Place): "I pitched the idea for the entire first season, beginning to end, to both Kristen Bell and Ted Danson. I figured it would be an easier sell if they could look at the whole picture before signing on.

  • Mark Goffman (CBS' Bull): "When Michael Weatherly announced he was leaving NCIS, we knew he was perfect for the role — a unique combination of comedy, warmth, physicality and feral intelligence along with a bruising candor. Plus, my mom loves him."

Chris Harris (CBS' The Great Indoors): "Joel McHale read the script and responded enthusiastically to the character, setting and jokes after we told him what he’d be paid per episode."

  • Fogelman: "Going to have a good year. I've seen a lot of the pilots and I think people are starting to be willing to take chances a little bit more. And there are some really good people doing network TV this year. I’ve heard great things about The Good Place on NBC, [for instance,] but haven't seen it. And I saw Speechless on ABC, and that looked really good."

  • Slater: "Unfairly maligned! I think there's a pervasive industry snobbery when it comes to cable versus network, this idea that cable equals quality while broadcast equals product, and it's nonsense. Especially when you consider that the vast majority of the greatest shows of all time ran on network TV. Would The West Wing have been better with gratuitous violence and nudity? How about Cheers? Friday Night Lights? Seinfeld? (Okay, that last one sounds awesome, I'll give you that.) If you have the right creative partners, you can tell a great story anywhere."

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