Life Lessons from the Recently Deceased – The Making of ABC’s “Not Dead Yet”

“I will forever be someone that's shedding like an onion and peeling away the layers of what I think I know and what I don't know,” shared Gina Rodriguez during a TCA press conference for the new ABC sitcom Not Dead Yet. Gina Rodriguez broke out nearly a decade ago as the star of the hit series Jane the Virgin, a character she admired, but who was also so perfect that there was a divide between the actress and her character. But in Not Dead Yet, a series about a thirty-something woman named Nell who gave up everything for a man and now has to start all over again, Gina found a flawed character she could really relate to. And as an expectant mother due any day now, Gina poignantly found herself gifting a new show to the world as her life is in a state of significant transition. “We are all constantly growing and looking for a safe space to grow in and looking for joy and forgiveness… It's great to play somebody that gets to fail but gets to learn from her failures, that gets a place of forgiveness where she gets to try to do better. And she gets to learn from the people around her, and she's at times afraid to learn and reject those lessons, and then at other times really is so appreciative. Her life depends on learning from those moments. So, it's really cool to be playing this in a time where I'm now just continuously unraveling and rebuilding myself.”



“What's kind of groundbreaking and refreshing about this show is that you have three women at the top of the call sheet, but this is not a show that's about women,” gushed Hannah Simone, who stars as Nell’s best friend Sam. “You have two women at the top of this call sheet that are women of color, but it's not about a show about being of color. And that's usually how it was in the past. You always had to explain yourself or define the show by those relationships… It's not about those things that usually have to be explained to then be about the representation or about the diversity, whether it is gender or race or sexual orientation or age or all of those things. This is a show about people that are learning and growing and forgiving. And the fact that we can all be seen as people on the show is what I find so groundbreaking.”

Ironically, for a show about people being seen, Not Dead Yet is also literally about people who can’t be seen, aka ghosts. “When David [Windsor] and I were writing the pilot, we discovered that we both loved to read obituaries,” revealed executive producer Casey Johnson. Based on the novel Confessions of a Forty-Something F**k Up by Alexandra Potter, Nell gets a job as an obituary writer only to discover that each article comes with a ghost who is there to ensure that their story gets told the right way. “Everyone has a story. And even the most ordinary-seeming person is fascinating if you just pay attention. And so that's something we love about these characters. There are some characters we have who lead extraordinary lives, and then there's an ordinary mail carrier, who's fascinating. That's something we love.”

The creative team consulted with an actual obituary writer when developing the series, and also studied real newsrooms as much as could be done during the pandemic. “It's not a world that Casey and I knew, even though we both get a physical newspaper every day,” executive producer David Windsor explained. “We wanted to make sure that we got that right and made it accurate. So, we had quite a few meetings with newspaper journalists and publishers just to understand how their world worked, to see what it looked like. We'd never been inside a newsroom. And, so, we did a lot of research through them to make sure that that was accurate.”

In many cases, the actors themselves brought to the table all the research needed for their character, as was the case with Nell’s roommate Edward, who is on the Autism Spectrum. “I actually try very much to forget a lot of the stereotypes that I had thought before my diagnosis,” revealed Rick Glassman, who plays Edward and is himself on the spectrum. “I spoke with David and Casey before doing this job, actually during the audition with Gina as well, and I'm not going to say no to a job. They are impossible to get. So, spoiler alert, I was going to say yes, but I was a bit hesitant because I didn't want to play another character that I had seen before, that I had played before. I wanted it to be a little bit more like me, a little bit more like a character that we haven't seen on the spectrum, not so robotic, still very goofy. And I feel like this character was more so me than any autistic character that I've played in the past. Autism isn't the center of the show, nor is it even the most interesting quality of the character I play, Edward.”

“It's been a beautiful opportunity to be able to represent a community that I am so proud of and I am so part of,” Josh Banday said about playing Dennis, Nell’s immediate supervisor at work and an out and proud queer character. “It's been a beautiful way to connect with Dennis and to tell a story with authenticity and real emotion behind it. I have to thank these guys behind me,” he said, pointing to the producorial team of Casey, David, and Dean Holland. “They did such a bang-up job with it, and I love them for it. But don't tell them. I don't want them to get a big head.”

Most of the characters in Nell’s world are there because they have to be, whether they’re colleagues or her roommate. There is one major exception, though, through the character of Cricket, the widow of her first obituary assignment. “Gina, she is such a boss,” actress Angela Gibbs shared about her co-star, who also executive produces the series. “I have watched her day after day come in. She takes care of herself. She took good care of herself through this pregnancy but also really showed up to talk with Casey and David, to talk with Dean, to discuss how this could work or that could work. She'd look out for me. ‘Are you comfortable in that?’ She'd stop, and she'd say, ‘I want to thank all of the background because we value you because, without you, we would not have a show.’ It starts at the top. I remember, early on, you all made a declaration that we can have a great show and have a good time, and so they brought together this wonderful crew and this cast. I just want to say thank you [to Gina] for being such a queen.”

Not Dead Yet kicks off with a double-episode premiere on Wednesday, February 8th, at 8:30/7:30c on ABC. Episodes will be available to stream on Hulu the day after air.

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Alex Reif
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).