Last month when I was in Los Angeles, I had a sneak peek of ABC's “The Kids Are Alright.” My 13-year-old really likes this show. I think it gives her a sense of something totally different than her reality. As a child from a large modern family 4 kids) she has no idea what a REALLY large family really looks like or what being crammed into a small house is like (sorry you lost a basement when we moved across the country, first world problems kiddo). It's all perspective.
Set in the 1970s, the ensemble comedy “The Kids Are Alright” follows a traditional Irish-Catholic family, the Clearys, as they navigate big and small changes during one of America’s most turbulent decades. In a working-class neighborhood outside Los Angeles, Mike and Peggy raise eight boisterous boys who live out their days with little supervision.
The household is turned upside down when oldest son Lawrence returns home and announces he’s quitting the seminary to go off and “save the world.” Times are changing and this family will never be the same. There are 10 people, three bedrooms, one bathroom and everyone in it for themselves.
The series stars Michael Cudlitz as Mike Cleary, Mary McCormack as Peggy Cleary, Sam Straley as Lawrence Cleary, Caleb Foote as Eddie Cleary, Sawyer Barth as Frank Cleary, Christopher Paul Richards as Joey Cleary, Jack Gore as Timmy Cleary, Andy Walken as William Cleary, and Santino Barnard as Pat Cleary.
We went behind the scenes and got to visit the set of “The Kids Are Alright” and learn more about the show. We toured the entire house and the backyard practical set, as well as talked to Caleb Foote (“Eddie Cleary”) and Michael Cudlitz (“Mike Cleary”), production designer Michael Whetstone, set decorator Claudette Didul, costume designer Susan Michalek, line producer Kris Eber (he greeted us and wrapped up the tour) and last but not least: the show’s creator, showrunner and executive producer Tim Doyle.
On the house design and layout
The house we toured for the set is based on a house they found for the pilot back in March 2018. “I think it was built in 1932. It was very, very small. It was one of the first ranch houses in Studio City or something,” production designer Michael Whetstone said. “And our director loved it.”
Generally, when they build a set, they build it about 25% bigger for shooting, but they didn't do that with this house, so it felt TIGHT walking through. However, they did create a moveable wall/bookcase to create a little extra room for a dolly.
The house has a central dining room that was intentional to create a relationship dynamic. Each episode has a scene centered around the dining room table (which, by the way, isn't even big enough to fit the whole family!)
And the phone. Let's not forget the days of the phone tethered to the wall with no privacy. The Cleary household phone was located in the dining room and the boys would hide in the closet for privacy. I remember those days all too well myself. We had a phone in our dining room and my sister and I would drag the phone around the hall into the basement door to try to get some privacy while on the phone in high school. The cord was never the same after all those stretchings.
“Phones were always beige and black, 'cause it costs so much money to get a color,” set decorator Claudette Didul said. “It was like, $10 more or something a month. From the research I did on “Mad Men,” we just knew that push-button phones didn't come out 'til 1966. And they didn't have the pound key or the asterisk key”
“We had, you know, one phone centrally located in the dining room,” showrunner and executive producer Tim Doyle. “And if we wanted to talk to a girlfriend, or just wanted to be able to talk without everybody overhearing, you sat on the floor in the closet. Those little specific details really make the show very interesting to me! I hope to other people, too. Maybe you don't have that exact same thing, but you totally get it. You know, because you didn't have a phone in your pocket back then if you wanted to have a little bit of private life, you had to be resourceful!”
On the nostalgia and furnishings
What this set is about, is nostalgia. It feels like my grandmother's house. And it should. Since the show is set in the 70s, much of the furnishings are older than that since this wasn't a wealthy family. They're rocking 15- and 20-year old couches, tables, lamps, etc. Just walking through I spotted so many items that reminded me of things in my grandparents' homes and then things in my own homes growing up.
“This probably either reminds you of your parents' house or your grandparents' house or somebody in the past of your life,” Whetstone said. “A lot of that is due to the research we did at the beginning, and then Claudette's eye for detail. I think if you walk through here you'll see layers and layers of encyclopedias and games. Every single thing has what we like to call a proof of authenticity.”
“Nothing hits this set…that's not of the right era, Claudette goes through Sears catalogs. I'll let her tell you. But it's very authentic.”
“We do hit situations, though, where we have a lot of gags on the episodes and we have to duplicate things,” Didul said. “So sometimes it's hard to find period, duplicated light fixtures and stuff like that. So we do have to cheat. We'll run to Target, perhaps, to get something. Or, you know, lampshades aren't always vintage. ‘Cause a lot of times, 50 years later, they're falling apart.
“We actually lucked out with a couple of estate sales. We literally took this whole drapery rig right out of the house as-is, and it is so fragile that I couldn't get it dry cleaned. But it looks awesome!”
Fun Fact: Claudette Didul was the set designer for Seasons 4 and beyond on my all-time favorite TV series, “Mad Men!”
ABC's “The Kids Are Alright,” airs Tuesdays at 8:30|7:30c on ABC
Watch via streaming (ABC app/ABC.com/Hulu) or On Demand