The Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills hosted a preview and panel discussion of the new ABC TV comedy American Housewife on Saturday, September 10. Host for the event was TV Guide West Coast Bureau Chief Jim Halterman. Participating in the panel were Julia Butters (Anna-Kat Otto), Daniel DiMaggio (Oliver Otto), Meg Donnelly (Taylor Otto), Carly Hughes (Angela), Diedrich Bader (Greg Otto), Katy Mixon (Katie Otto), Kenny Schwartz (Executive Producer), Sarah Dunn (Executive Producer) and Aaron Kaplan (Executive Producer). Most of the group was at their first-ever Paley panel.
Sarah Dunn created the series, explaining that it was conceived based on an off-hand comment in a phone conversation. While talking to Aaron Kaplan, Dunn, who was living on the East Coast at the time, remarked that she had just become the second-fattest housewife in her hometown. Kaplan exclaimed, “There’s your show!”
Dunn went on to say that the show ended up resembling much of her real life. Diedrich Bader, she said, was just like her husband. When comic actor Katy Mixon (Mike and Molly) became available to play the lead, she felt it was a sign. She even named the leading character Katie after her sister. Although, she admitted, her sister seemed upset when she told her.
When asked why the word “fat” came up so much in the first episode, Dunn volunteered that she was a size 14 with two little kids. Seeing how so many women in her town spent most of their time obsessively working out to stay slim made her kind of angry, so she decided to write about it and turn it into a comedy.
The first performer cast was Katy Mixon as Katie. The producers said she was the first actress they saw and that she lit up the room when she entered. Casting the husband Greg was a different matter. Diedrich Bader was the last of many actors considered for the role. Mixon recalled that when the two met in a hallway during the casting sessions, she told him, “I’m such a big fan of yours.” He replied, “I’m such a big fan of you.”
Bader agreed, saying that while it may seem like a cliché, the two of them hit it off immediately. He also admitted that it made him very happy to work with Katy. He felt sure that with her star power attached to the project, “This is going to get picked up!”
Other cast members weighed in on their first impressions of their costars. Julia Butters, playing the precocious little daughter Anna-Kat recalled seeing Mixon during auditions and telling her mother, “Mom, I think this is my TV mom.” Daniel DiMaggio, playing the buttoned-up son Oliver offered, “I hadn’t formally met the cast at any time until I was on set.” Bader reacted, “He’s so perfectly cast.” Meg Donnelly, new to the show due to a last-minute recasting of eldest daughter Taylor, said that the first time she met the rest of her TV family was like a reunion and that they treated her like she was already their daughter.
Executive producer Kenny Schwartz talked about the major story lines that would be explored in the first season. In the show, Katie Otto has uprooted her family and moved them to the tiny community of Westport. She is dismayed to see her two older children catching the Westport “bug;” son Oliver becoming materialistic, and daughter Taylor obsessing over her appearance. The youngest in the family, Anna-Kat has gone in the opposite direction. Katie’s major goal will be to make the two older kids fit in less and the younger fit in more.
Carly Hughes plays Angela, Katie’s best friend in Westport. A plot twist requires the two of them to share a (faux) passionate kiss. When asked how good a kisser Mixon was, she promptly replied, “Pretty good.” Since they had known each other since college, she joked that when they approached the scene, she told herself, “This is happening!” She described Angela as a great character to play, calling her “a firecracker,” and concluding, “I’m excited about it.” Asked if her character Angela, a recently single lesbian, would be dating on the show, Hughes said she hoped so, if only to find out more of the character’s story. At this, Bader interjected, “I’m watching this show!”
Noting that two of the kids were being pulled into their new community of Westport, the producers were asked if this would be true of the adults in the Otto family. They will definitely become a part of the community, Greg more than Katie. Bader asserted that his character, Greg Otto, was worried that his son was turning into a capitalist pig and his daughter into a future trophy wife. “That would be terrifying to me,” he said. He added that the dynamic of the series is how people are judged as outsiders.
Show creator Dunn was asked if American Housewife would be suitable for the whole family to watch. She replied that she has two children of her own, aged six and seven, and that in working on each episode she asks herself, “Would I want my kids to hear this?” When asked if there would be holiday episodes, the reply was a resounding yes—that ABC loves that.
The cast was asked if they did much ad-libbing on the set. Bader pointed out that the scripts were so good that sometimes the cast had to be careful not to laugh themselves. Some adlibs do stay in the show.
Mixon was asked about playing the title character of Katy. She mused that she was enjoying playing a character that was flawed. Katie tries and fails, and then becomes better for it. She added that it was wonderful to go straight from Mike and Molly into a new show.
Executive producer Kaplan summed up the show, saying that it came from a real place, in a real life, drawn from the experiences of show creator Dunn. When asked if her sister Katie had seen the show, Dunn said she had and that the whole family was very excited about it. She even offered to change the name of the lead character. She confided, “I think she’s very happy I didn’t change the name, especially since it will be a good show.”