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Set visit of ABC’s The Kids Are Alright + meeting Caleb Foote, Michael Cudlitz and more

Set visit of ABC’s The Kids Are Alright + meeting Caleb Foote, Michael Cudlitz and more

This was an all-expense paid trip with Disney and ABC. All opinions are my own.

I have shared so much with you about my trip to Los Angeles for Disney’s The Nutcracker and the Four Realms red carpet premiere, but today I get to share one more fun thing I did while there! We got to go on the set of ABC’s The Kids Are Alright and tour the “house” and the “backyard” as well as meet 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.

My group with production designer Michael Whetstone, set decorator Claudette Didul, Caleb Foote (“Eddie Cleary”), and showrunner and executive producer Tim Doyle

Tune in tonight. The Kids Are Alright airs Tuesdays at 8:30|7:30c on The ABC Television Network or streaming or on demand. 

Set in the 1970s, this ensemble comedy 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.

(ABC/Craig Sjodin)

The set tour and interviews were a lot of fun. Caleb Foote (Eddie Cleary) and Michael Whetstone (production designer). We were also joined by Claudette Didual (costume designer) for part of it and even got to talk with Tim Doyle (showrunner and executive producer) during the tour. Kris also told us a lot about the show, so I am excited to share all of that with you today.

Tell us about the house set

Michael W: The way a TV show works is you make a pilot. And then you wait and see if it gets picked up. So this house is based on a house that we found for the pilot back in March. 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. And our director loved it. He wanted it to feel crowded. Usually, when you go to stage, you say oh, I’m gonna make it 25% bigger for shooting. We didn’t really do that. I’ll show you a few secret things we did to make it more shootable like adding a secret wall behind the TV so we can have a camera and dolly there. It’s a shot we use a lot.

Caleb: In most cases, they would expand the set in the recreation of the studio. But having the tight-knit family is a big part of our show. When we’re watching TV, Mom and Dad are on the couch. And our second youngest son is, like, right here. And Dad’ll be, like, go up a channel. And he’ll (the second youngest son) pop up. And he’ll change the channel. Or go down two… he’ll pop up! And they’ll go down two. ‘Cause this is before we had controllers. I guess they did have controllers but they were basically, like, garage clickers at the time. And the Cleary household did not have a controller.

How did you design the set?

Michael W: Nothing hits this set that’s not of the right era.

Claudette: We do hit situations, though, where we have to duplicate things. So sometimes it’s hard to find period, duplicated light fixtures and stuff like that. So we do have to cheat. You know, we’ll run to Target, perhaps, to get something. Or 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 right out of the house as is, and it is so fragile that I couldn’t get it dry cleaned. But it looks awesome! And we are gonna just see how long it lasts. And it was predominantly because when you do a pilot, you never know if the show’s gonna get picked up. And you tend to either buy or rent, and when the show’s picked up, you go, ‘how am I gonna get the stuff?’ Or you hope that the stuff you bought is still together.

Because of age, things still kind of fall apart. There are some things we replace from the pilot with purchased stuff, just for cost. We have a budget we have to go through every week. And it gets a little nutty. But we really do try to do our due diligence, finding things that were from the right period. I know with my own house, I actually have chairs stacked up with magazines for me to reads that is just from the last, like, three months.


The background on the Dining Room

Michael W: This is our dining room! Peggy (played by Mary McCormack) does the laundry in here, and she folds the laundry.  She sews in here.  So the dining room is really the center of the household in our show.  Figuratively and literally, it is the center.  And when we were trying to find a house, we wanted this relationship: kitchen, dining room and the living room. With the dining room at the center for that reason.

Caleb: Just about every single episode has a big dining room scenery.  And they’re always fun to shoot!  They always take a while, ’cause there’s so much coverage of people’s lines and what not.

Michael W: The wallpaper was inspired by a house we saw from the 1960s.  I think as you look at this you’re gonna say, oh!  It’s 1972 but they don’t have any ’70s furniture.  It’s because this family can’t afford to buy 1972 brand new furniture…So, when Claudette – and Claudette can speak to the era of this furniture – but most of it’s from the ’50s and the ’60s.  You won’t see a lot of 1972.

We’re doing an episode where we had to copy this [Ethan Allen] table.  And that speaks to what Claudette was saying about: how hard it is when you’re working in a certain period. There is no second table out there.  We can’t just go to the store and get it.  We had to make it.  It was a much bigger deal than it should’ve been. Everything period. A lot of these things are one of a kind.  So, it creates some problems.

Caleb Foote and Michael Whetstone

Caleb: This is probably one of the most fun places to shoot a scene, ’cause it’s the whole family all crowded around the table.  And the table’s not even big enough for the whole family…So over here (the corner by the closet with the table and the phone) there’s always someone, one of the boys… And it’s like, ‘Oh crap!  This is my episode?  I have to eat on the tiny table?’  And they usually have one line and they peek their head out and one line and get back to their meal.

Claudette: “So, I’m old.  Growing up, we had two phones: One upstairs in my parents’ bedroom, one in the kitchen with the 25-foot cord that mother would walk around the entire house. Until the dog bit it in half.  It took a week for the phone repairman to come.  And, so in this household, there’s basically one phone at this time, with a 25-foot cord that the kids have private conversations in the closet like a phone booth.

That right there’s the only private place in the whole house, it’s the closet.  That’s where you go to be alone, to make your secret phone calls. And the other thing two is, color-wise, phones were always beige and black…’cause it costs so much money to get a color.  It was like, $10 more or something a month.”

Is there anything specifically that you really wanted to have, but you had a hard time procuring, and you finally got it?

Claudette: The kitchen table.  And I know that sounds weird, but it’s been really hard to find a duplicate kitchen table.  So when you go on the tour outside, what we had to do was duplicate the back part of this house, and the backyard, and make it look real.  And duplicate the whole kitchen.

Is this the table they sleep under?

Claudette:This is it!

Is the wallpaper vintage?

Claudette: No…It’s reproduction. So there’s a great place here in the valley, Aspect Wallpaper…so, you could create something on your computer.  And he can make wallpaper or print it on canvas.

THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT – ABC’s “The Kids Are Alright” stars Mary McCormack as Peggy Cleary. (ABC/Craig Sjodin)

Exploring the kitchen:

Michael: When we started the research, I actually used pictures from my parent’s house. And one of the things my mom had were copper molds, and Claudette didn’t even tell me she was getting them, she just surprised me with three or four things from my childhood house, and they were all in here.

Caleb: Our mom on the show has two main places of operation. And that’s in here (pointing to the dining room) for all of her sewing and laundry, and then it’s in here (points to the kitchen), with the cooking. And you’ll notice in almost every single scene, really every single scene, she’s doing something. She will enter, and she’ll be pulling out a cookbook…While the kids are coming with some kind of issue, she’ll be folding something, trying to deal with the issue, and maintaining the house. It’s really brilliant on her end to keep that up literally every single scene, ’cause she’s such a hard-working mom, and on our writers to have that going. ‘Cause if it weren’t for Peggy, this household wouldn’t be running.

Michael W: For that reason, you can see that Claudette has dressed every single cupboard, and that’s so Peggy can…

Claudette: She’ll always be moving while she’s talking.

Running into showrunner and executive producer Tim Doyle

Tim: “So you saw the set. This is the weirdest thing in the world!  Michael did an amazing job. You know, when we shot the pilot, we shot at a house in Sherman Oaks.  And then we came here and Michael built the house in Sherman Oaks on our stage. And now we have a very good recreation of the backyard, but much more room and much more verisimilitude over here behind our stages.  It’s all kinda magical!”

Showrunner and executive producer Tim Doyle

Tim: “Right now we’re doing a thing in the backyard where the boys are playing with gunpowder and chemicals, which was something that we all did when I was little. We basically spent the whole summer trying to figure out how to blow ourselves up. Mom and Dad would just kinda watch and go, ‘Oh, look what they’re up to.’ Yeah! No, it’s, it’s a funny thing. It’s amazing that we all survived that period. But again, some of us didn’t!

We had one phone centrally located in the dining room. And if we wanted to talk to a girlfriend, or just wanted to be able to talk without everybody overhearing, we sat on the floor in the closet. Those little specific details really make the show very interesting to me! I hope for other people, too. Maybe you don’t have that exact same thing, but you totally get it. 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!”

From here we went over to the costumes department where we met costume designer Susan Michalek who gave us a tour and told us about her job and everything that goes on behind the scenes with costumes.

A little background on the show and clothing

Costume designer Susan Michalek

Susan: “So it was set in 1972 and there’s a family who is sort of stuck in the late sixties except for the oldest son Lawrence – you probably all saw the pilot, right?  He brings the 70s into the family ‘cause they’re sort of stuck in this smaller world.  But Caleb’s character is a little bit in the seventies too.  But these are during fittings, these are our fittings photos.

It’s all supposed to look like hand-me-downs except it’s happier because it’s on ABC.  So it’s sort of colorful hand-me-downs.  There’s just a ton of research we did for it.  Because, you know, you have to…even though I was alive at that time (to Caleb) you weren’t.”

Where do the clothes come from for the show?

Susan: “We really get so much from all the rental houses in L.A.  So ABC has a costume house and Warner Brothers have a costume house and then there are some private ones too, so there are about eight or ten in L.A.  Their buildings are the size of football fields and really high with racks of clothing where we go get most of it.”

Costume designer Susan Michalek for ABC’s The Kids Are Alright

How do you organize the clothing?

Susan: “So when I’m putting a show together, like lining up the clothes, I’ll put them on the wall so I can see what goes…  like I don’t want two characters in the same color.  And there are so many of them I like to get different colors, so it all looks good. And we keep track of everything that shoots on set, [it] has to be kept track of because we don’t shoot in order.  We’ll shoot one scene from a script one script day [and the next scene] several days apart.  [This is] sort of an organizing center of it all.”

How many wardrobe changes are there on an average episode? 

Susan: “50-52 and then there’ll be some background [actors] too, so like the episode we’re in, there’s fifty-two and there is going to be a 100 background. It’s fun.  It makes it more interesting.”

How many changes for each character?

Susan: “It’s like about thirteen, yeah so it’s four or five, yeah.  I mean the pilot had I think ten changes per person, there were a hundred changes and 275 background [actors], so it’s a lot. But it’s fun to go into another world, you know, not always be – I normally I do shows/sitcoms that are fashion-y.”

From here, we headed over to the “backyard”. Kris Eber joined us for this part and gave us a little background on it.

Kris: “As you guys saw on the stage we had a painted backyard with you, painted grass. And the idea behind that was, we would only see that backyard when we’re shooting inside the house, looking out. We were never, ever planning on shooting in the backyard itself.

And part of the challenge that we have a lot of times on sitcoms is that our backyards look fake when you watch TV. And that’s because we’re building them inside a soundstage, it’s hard to light. You know, it’s hard to compete with the sun. So we’re trying to light with artificial light, and it doesn’t look great.

So a decision that we made on the show, and to my knowledge; I think we’re the only comedy that’s ever done this – I don’t know if that’s true but I think so – we decided we were gonna build a full 7,000 square foot real backyard in our parking lot. So the idea behind this was because the kids are always underfoot, and Mom always wants to push them outside, we knew we’d be doing a lot of work in the backyard. And we wanted to make sure that it looked as good as it could.

One of the things that we were trying to do was maintain the realness of the yard. So all of the trees that you see are live trees. So everything that we use – the only thing that’s artificial in the yard is the grass. And that had more to do with durability because the crew is working on it all the time. We’ve really gone out of our way to make the fake grass look as real as possible. So it’s actually a layer of dirt below the grass that makes it uneven and you’ll see that it’s dirty. You know, we put down sand and dirt to kind of make it look like a yard with the eight boys.

So you’ll get a chance to just see that as well. But the kind of the cornerstone of the set is a 24-foot-tall tree. It’s 30,000 pounds. It’s buried 9 feet into the concrete, to make it look like it fits into our yard. But obviously, our yard is fake.”

Coralie Seright and Michael Cudlitz

I had such a great time exploring the set, and costume department and getting to see the one-of-a-kind backyard. While we were there we also got to meet Michael Cudlitz who plays Mike Cleary (the dad) on the show and some of the boys.

Be sure to tune in tonight for an all-new episode of ABC’s The Kids Are Alright!

THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT – ABC’s “The Kids Are Alright” stars Michael Cudlitz as Mike Cleary, Mary McCormack as Peggy Cleary, Sam Straley as Lawrence Cleary, Sawyer Barth as Frank Cleary, Caleb Foote as Eddie Cleary, Christopher Paul Richards as Joey Cleary, Jack Gore as Timmy Cleary, Andy Walken as William Cleary, and Santino Barnard as Pat Cleary. (ABC/Craig Sjodin)


“Peggy’s Day Out” – To hide a mess Eddie made, his girlfriend, Wendi, tries to distract Peggy by insisting she take a day off with a fun day out while they take care of the housework. To everyone’s surprise, Peggy accepts the offer and requests Wendi tag along, with the ulterior motive of teaching her a lesson. Meanwhile, Eddie enlists the help of his brothers to clean up and keep Mike out of the house while Wendi and Peggy are out. Elsewhere, Pat introduces Timmy to his secret dog on “The Kids Are Alright,” TUESDAY, NOV. 13 (8:31-9:00 p.m. EST), on The ABC Television Network, streaming and on demand. ”Peggy’s Day Out” was written by Tom Hertz and directed by Kat Coiro.

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