“The entire country, the entire world is coming back from a punch and it all of a sudden felt a little more universal, that we're all coming back from something now,” series creator and executive producer Liz Heldens said about The Big Leap at the TCA Summer Press Tour. Produced by 20th Television and FOX Entertainment, the scripted series tells the behind-the-scenes story of a reality dance competition show. “The dancing on top of that just felt ultra-triumphant and a little rebellious, because we can show people connecting and touching… I think there's something about the past year and a half that has made this show feel a little bit more relevant in my mind.”
With a cast of down-on-their-luck characters, The Big Leap follows them as they get a second chance at success, uplifting the cast and the audience with them. “As storytellers, we just tell the kinds of things that we want to tell,” executive producer Jason Winer explained. “This is a story that I wanted to see, frankly. When I read the script, I just freaked out because it was so visual and uplifting and emotional and genuinely funny and I cared about every single one of these characters. And that's just a rare combination of things.” Jason Winer brought along some of his Modern Family collaborators to The Big Leap, including Bill Wrubel, Kevin Daniels and Gail Mancuso.
Scott Foley headlines the cast as the producer of the show-within-the-show, Nick Blackburn. “I had a reckoning the other day where I sort of realized, at least in my own mind, that Nick is sort of like the Darth Vader in the making of this show,” the actor revealed. “He’s not the evil guy, but his intentions are not necessarily the best… He's the person who makes sure the show is what people want to watch, regardless of the ethics. For me, it's such an interesting character to play.” While the rest of the cast got to bond during dance rehearsals, Foley, whose character doesn’t dance, felt a little left out. “I think it's actually benefited the character because it creates a bit of separation between myself and the rest of the cast, which, I hope, is apparent on screen. I think Nick is someone who does what needs to be done in the name of the show, everything is for the sake of the show.”
While the cast who appear in the show-within-the-show got to rehearse together, the pandemic put a pause on production. “There's been weeks on end where we've had time to rehearse, and then sometimes you just have 20-minutes before,” Simone Recasner explained. “It's been a certain mix. Raymond [Cham Jr.] and I rehearsed the first episode’s bowling alley [choreography] for months, and then it changed the day of.”
Not all of the cast came to the show with a dance background. In the case of Ser’Darius Blain, who is paired with Simone Recasner, he was sure he wasn’t going to make it past the dance audition. “I actually auditioned against one of my really, really close friends,” the actor shared, adding that he was so convinced that he wouldn’t make it through, they bet that the winner had to pay for dinner at a fancy restaurant. “I had to take him out on a $400 dinner along with his wife, so that was pretty funny.” The choreographers include talent from So You Think You Can Dance, but he shared that they take the time to make the moves accessible to the entire cast. “They've broken it down into childlike terminology for me and helped me correct my other left foot and make it a right foot now.”
Jon Rudnitsky is better known as a comedian than a dancer, but those two worlds collided in 2015 on Saturday Night Live during his memorable Dirty Dancing parody, which his agent sent to the producers of The Big Leap. “Dancing's always been a part of my comedy, it's been a part of my act,” Rudnitsky shared. “I've been dancing since I was a little kid, and I'm not professionally trained. But I do find that there is a physicality within my comedy that I tend to merge. It really worked out that this show came along because it's for somebody who can dance kind of well, but you don't need to be that good, which, I think, is perfect for me.”
This introductory season of The Big Leap will find the cast working towards a contemporary performance of Swan Lake, but viewers should know that the story doesn’t necessarily end there. “We have a lot of ideas about the second season,” Liz Heldens revealed. “I do think that TV is about character and people investing in these characters, so I want to continue with these people. But we have a lot of big-swing ideas for Season 2.
The Big Leap airs Mondays at 9/8c on FOX starting September 20th. The first two episodes are streaming on Hulu, FOX Now and on-demand in advance of the show’s premiere.
Alex joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and has been a lifelong Disney fan. His main beats for LP are Disney-branded movies, TV shows, books, music and toys. He recently became a member of the Television Critics Association (TCA).