ABC’s new comedy Speechless fits snugly alongside the network’s hits black-ish and Fresh Off the Boat, in that it’s about a family, and it’s very funny. But for show creator Scott Silveri, the series, starring Minnie Driver and John Ross Bowie as parents dealing with challenges posed by raising a family that includes a child with cerebral palsy, it’s also deeply personal.
“This is a story I’ve been wanting to tell for 20 years,” Silveri told a room of journalists last week at TCA in Beverly Hills, explaining his older brother also has cerebral palsy. “I’ve been doing romantic comedy for so many years,” said Silveri, whose resume features Mad About You, Friends, Joey and The Grinder. “It’s 20 years of milking the three girlfriends I’ve ever had. And this is a time to draw on other life experience, and it’s a time to write scenes that I’ve never done before.”
After a panel session for journalists where Silveri praised actor Micah Fowler, who has cerebral palsy in real life (“I saw him, and he just lit up the screen. He was so effortlessly funny and endearing”), he spoke backstage with XFINITY.
Given how long you wanted to tell this story, was it easy to write? It developed. The first iteration was a lot more based on this is my mom, this is my dad, this is me, this is my brother, my sister. It was kind of suffocated. We got a bit of distance, and it got better. Do you have a favorite scene in the first episode? I like the scene with the cars bottoming out. It’s the kind of conversation I have with my dad. It could’ve happened at a dining room table, and instead we put it somewhere that told you a little something about these characters and how they relate. Which TV shows shaped your taste when you were growing up? Sitcoms. Family Ties was a big one, and Cheers. All those NBC comedies. As I got older, I liked Monty Python. But I was a real sitcom guy growing up. I’m living my dream. I can’t believe they let me do this. In the show, Minnie Driver has a lead foot when she drives. Did your mom drive fast in real life? Yes, she’s getting pulled over right now and using my brother for an excuse. I promise you. Yeah, it was terrifying. It sounds like there’s no shortage of material. I spent a lot of time following my brother to therapies. One day I sat down to study and there was no place to sit other than a wheelchair. So I sat down and pretty soon fell asleep. There’s a new guy working in this place, and I look a lot like my brother, and he wheels me into the lunch room. I wake up and go, “Oh no.” I got up and started walking. You should’ve seen it. People lost their shit. All I wanted to do was not get any attention. There’s a lot of absurdity. We were like any family – completely nuts – and that’s the show.