Alan Thicke has spent more than 40 years of his life entertaining through television, film and music, but the 69-year-old “Growing Pains” star continues to prove he’s one of Hollywood’s most valuable players.
Next week, Thicke helps kick off the 2016 Fall TV season with roles in two engaging small-screen projects, starting with the highly anticipated premiere of the NBC drama “This Is Us” (Tuesdays, 10 p.m. ET), which features the actor in a small but memorable cameo.
“I loved it,” Thicke, joined by his wife Tanya Callau Thicke, said of the series. “Dan Fogelman, the producer-writer kind of kept all of us in a little suspense over how the elements of that script would all come together. In truth, I didn’t fully understand it until I saw the pilot episode. I was thrilled. It’s about a handful of people who were all born on the same day—they have the same birthday, they’re all 36 now—and the incredibly intriguing way that they all interconnect and come together.”
“I saw the pilot and I said, ‘Alan, this is a hit show,’” Tanya added.
“It’s a very unique series. I was honored to be a part of the pilot,” Alan concluded. “Everybody has high hopes for it.”
Twenty-four hours after the premiere of “This Is Us,” Alan and Tanya can be seen on the Pop TV network with the season premiere of their scripted reality show “Unusually Thicke” (Wednesdays, 9 p.m. ET). The unique sitcom-reality hybrid series follows Alan, Tanya (who is 28 years his junior), their teenage son Carter and a rotating cast of famous friends and family through fictionalized events in their daily lives.
For more on “Unusually Thicke,” check my interview with Alan and Tanya below:
David Onda: I really enjoy “Unusually Thicke.” When you know it’s a sitcom-reality show hybrid, it really changes the way you watch it. What made you go this route with a series?
Alan Thicke: We felt that the confrontational, conflicted type of reality show had already been played out pretty well by people who were doing a great job at it, and that we would be redundant and more boring. And, also, we wanted to find some humor that comes out of family drama. So, we decided to go with the format in which we knew what stories we were gonna tell—all of which are related to our lives—but we would still want to keep it fresh by improvising the dialogue and not knowing what would get said.
Tanya Thicke: I also feel that so many hilarious things have happened to us throughout our lives together, including one thing that we didn’t film. Gosh, Alan, why didn’t we think of this? On one of our anniversaries, we’re in the Bahamas and we have this big beautiful bubble bath and Alan’s sitting in there waiting for me. I’m trying to put some lingerie on in the closet—it’s our anniversary! And all of a sudden, I smell—there were these candles lit all around the tub—and I smell this horrific smell and I look over and Alan’s head’s on fire! I’m trying to get my garters on, and all I could say was, “Baby, you’re on fire!” And he’s like, “Yes, I am!” He didn’t realize his head was one fire. I think that’s part of the reason it’s fun to make it a bit of a hybrid, to combine the sitcom with what’s really happening in our lives and share that with the world.
Onda: I couldn’t help but notice that the first episodes of this new season involve renovations to your house. Was this whole show just a ploy to get Pop TV to pay for renovations to your home?
Alan: [laughs] Actually, Pop wasn’t involved in any of that. How that came about was that our other partner in all of this is a Canadian network. We were a big hit on the Canadian network in the first year, and they decided they would like to roll us out to an even bigger network, a sister network, which happened to be HGTV up there. They said, “Hey, if you would just remodel the damn kitchen and add a porch or something, we’ll put you on an even bigger network in Canada.” So that’s how that came about. And Pop said, “That’s great with us, as long as it’s faithful to the mandate of showing us who your family is.” So, whenever we included those elements, we did an honest reaction to how the core of the family would deal with the various construction challenges.
Tanya: As you know, if you’ve ever done any construction, it’s very stressful on a household. A lot of stuff came out of it and, hey, I’m always up for renovating anything in my house.
Alan: They figured that house renovations, since it’s one of the leading causes of divorce, would make for an interesting new wrinkle into the show. Not that you ever wanna say “new wrinkle” to a guy in my demographic.
Onda: It was interesting to see how much Carter has grown as a performer since last season. How has it been for the two of you watching him evolve in front of the camera?
Alan: I’ve always considered myself to be kind of the glue or the wallflower on that show. It’s always been Carter and Tanya who were the newbies and the fresh faces and the exciting, unpredictable, funny characters in the show. I’ve been very proud of both of their developments that way. Carter has done his job as the smart-ass teenager, and Tanya has certainly been the outspoken loose cannon–
Tanya: I’m not a loose cannon.
Alan: You’re a cannon with no filter, how’s that?
Tanya: Nooo. Not a loose cannon.
Alan: She’s an unfiltered cannon.
Onda: What were some of the stories you enjoyed shooting most for this new season?
Tanya: One of my favorite episodes is “The Promposal.” It’s when Carter gets asked out to prom by another guy, and the principal won’t allow same-sex dates at the prom and I had a big issue with that. I think it’s something that I’m really proud we tackled head-on, and we did it in a fun and accepting way to teach people out there what really goes on in the real world and how everyone can just have a great time if we just love and accept everyone.
Alan: I like the one where Tanya tracks down some social media haters to meet them in person, and then kicks the crap out of a whole table full of them at a restaurant.
Onda: There’s no shortage of those.
Tanya: It’s amazing. Isn’t it crazy how much hate is out there?
Onda: Yes. And, you know, that’s something I really enjoyed about the show—there is so much negativity in the world, but “Unusually Thicke” is really feel-good TV. I smile while I watch it, and I think that’s something that can do a lot of good.
Tanya: Thank you so much for saying that. You honestly just made my day today. With all the interviews we’ve done, to hear someone say that it’s a feel-good show means that we accomplished what we set out to do. I had been approached for several different reality shows and I said [to Alan], “Honey, if we can do one based on our family that’s positive, that you can watch with the kids like ‘Growing Pains’ …” There are very few shows left that you can really sit down with the family and enjoy and watch and have a good laugh and actually learn a lesson. That’s why episodes like “The Promposal” about same-sex dating are really dealing with things that are social and current in today’s world. It’s supposed to be a feel-good show with a lesson at the end. That’s where Alan comes in, that’s where Alan’s genius comes in. And at the end of the day, the truth is, my husband’s the star of the show. Without my husband, we wouldn’t have the show.
Alan: Oooh, stop it.
Onda: Alan, you’re obviously one of television’s most beloved sitcom fathers. Were there any lessons you learned as a sitcom dad on “Growing Pains” that helped you as a real-life father?
Alan: There were. We had a dozen writers following me around telling me what to say, so that certainly gives you a consensus of parental behavior. And then I brought a little of it to that character by going through it at the time we were filming that show with a couple of early-teen sons. We were all experiencing real-life parenting and family dynamic during the making of that show.
Onda: You have so many projects that I had forgotten you were in…
Alan: Are you saying I’ve done a lot of forgettable things?
Onda: No! Things I had loved as a child!
Alan: Good save!
Onda: I forgot you were the father in the Disney movie “Not Quite Human.” I loved that movie. And Tanya, to that point, YouTube is chock full of clips from Alan’s work over the decades. Do you have any favorites you like to pull up?
Tanya: Of course, my favorite is the show “Unusually Thicke” that we did together. [laughs] But I’m an all-time classic girl, and the classic show for me will always be “Growing Pains.” I always had a crush on the dad from “Growing Pains.” All my friends would be like, “Oooh, Kirk Cameron!” And I’m like, “No, I kinda think the dad’s cute.” And I ended up marrying the dad! How funny is that?
Onda: I was hoping you were going to say the 1988 Crystal Light National Aerobic Championships.
Tanya: [laughs wildly]
Alan: You’re referring, no doubt, to the classic song “Sweaty and Hot.” I wrote that. And ironically, I performed that on-stage in a show that Tanya co-starred in on our very first date, the very first day I met her. I was in Miami to do a banquet for the Florida Marlins and Tanya was the model.
Tanya: I was the model and nobody told me anything about this song! And Alan says, “Are you OK if I play this song and you come up on stage and you do a little dance for me?” And I’m like, “Uhhh, OK.” [laughs]
Alan: We met doing that exact song you referenced.
Onda: I would buy that song today on iTunes.
Alan: Oh, yeah. Lots of [YouTube] views. A cult classic!
Onda: With all the reality shows out there, why should viewers check out “Unusually Thicke”?
Alan: As you pointed out, we try to do a different spin on reality. We try to do the feel-good version and, beyond that, we try to actually get some laughs on the show by finding humor in family drama. And this year, the excuse to watch it would be the fact that it’s about the family reacting to the news and the world around us. We did a lot of that this year. There’s an episode where there’s an accidental porn shoot taking place next door. We have to react and deal with the morality of that. There’s another one where I get in trouble with a bunch of bikers. There’s the issue of spying on your children, and we do that with a security camera issue with Carter. A lot of issues that we are seeing in the news now.
Tanya: Not to mention, you’ve got to check out my new kitchen. My kitchen is, like, super fly now. I am so proud of that kitchen.
Onda: You both seem to be very happy together. What’s the secret to a happy, long marriage?
Tanya: Well, can I really tell you? Do you really wanna know?
Onda: I really do.
Alan: I know where this is going, by the way.
Tanya: It’s true though! We love being connected, and I don’t think there’s any other way that a couple feels more connected and more intimate than when they’re having sex. I think sex is very important and I think that intimate attraction and that heat for each other, that passion for each other is what’s important. My key advice would be to always keep that fire burning.
Onda: Alan, you lucky dog you!
Alan: [laughs] Yes, I do count my lucky stars regularly.
Tanya: And we’re celebrating 17 years together on November 7, which was our very first date. We turned our business meeting, working together on the Florida Marlins event… we had a meeting before that to go over what Alan was gonna do. And we kind of forgot to talk about all of that. I ended up ordering four desserts and, at that moment, I said to Alan, “This is the strangest thing. I feel as though I’ve known you my entire life. I have never been on a date where I’ve ordered four desserts! Usually I’m nervous, I have butterflies in my stomach, but with you I feel 100-percent calm.”
Alan: So the answer to your question is: Sex and dessert, in that order. And both of them work for me, because I’m incredibly shallow.
Catch Alan and Tanya Thicke on the new season of “Unusually Thicke” Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET on Pop TV starting September 21.