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How NBC's 'Rise' Wants to Go Beyond the Typical High School Musical Show

Discussion in 'Movies, Music & Television' started by AGXStarseed, Mar 13, 2018.

  1. AGXStarseed

    AGXStarseed Well-Known Member

    Jun 13, 2013
    (Not written by me. To read the full article, please click the link at the bottom of the page.)

    Creator and showrunner Jason Katims talks with THR about charting his own course with the source material and diving deep into LGBTQ stories.

    Think of NBC's Rise as a twist on Friday Night Lights — except with a drama club replacing the latter's central football team.

    Creator Jason Katims wants his new NBC drama — premiering Tuesday after the season finale of This Is Us — to have the same ensemble feel as that of his critically praised Friday Night Lights (and Parenthood), where viewers care about every member of the production, from the lead of the school play and her mother to the son of the inspired drama club director as he battles a drinking problem.

    Rise, which counts Hamilton producer Jeffrey Seller among its exec producers, is inspired by (but not based on) the book Drama High, which tells the true story of Lou Volpe, a high school teacher who revitalizes his school's drama department. The series — for which Katims received a created by credit from the WGA — centers on Lou Mazzuchelli (played by How I Met Your Mother's Josh Radnor) as he refuses to accept the status quo and demands better of the drama department and thus breathes new life into the small, rundown Pennsylvania town, its students and their families.


    For those not familiar with Katims' résumé, Friday Night Lights did the same thing with Coach Taylor (Kyle Chandler) and Tami (Connie Britton) as the married couple infused their Texas town via its beloved football program.

    "I did see some connectivity between Rise and Friday Night Lights," Katims tells The Hollywood Reporter. "I was drawn to the fact that this was a school in a small town that was facing some challenges economically and otherwise and thought we could approach it in a similar way [to FNL] where you lean into the nuanced, intimate stories of the characters and film it in a way where you don't feel like you're looking from a distance but instead you feel like you're living with them."

    Like FNL, Rise will make good use of its sprawling ensemble, which that features 11 series regulars and even more standout supporting players — including an openly transgender high school student (played by nonbinary actor Ellie Desautels in a breakout role) — as each episode will tackle anywhere from four to six different storylines. Those include the school play Spring Awakening and the students who comprise the cast, their home lives and the relationships their parents have, while also tackling timely subjects including sexual harassment, sexuality, religion, substance addiction and the class system. For Katims, that's all part of his larger goal to prevent Rise from being "pigeonholed" as simply being a "high school musical show."


    The series instead comes off as a mix between early seasons of Fox's Glee and Katims' Friday Night Lights, where the musical scenes from Spring Awakening ring true for what the characters are experiencing. "When you marry the power of those songs with the investment you start to feel with the characters in the show, it's unique and powerful — and I was surprised by how powerful those musical moments could be," Katims says. Think of Riseas a collection of mini Parenthood-like stories where each student and their parents are fully fleshed out characters. And NBC, too, has confidence that the Rise's emotional stories will resonate with This Is Us viewers, many of whom thought Katims created the latter show. In a nod to the confusion, Rise will sample after the season two finale of This Is Us before taking over its slot on March 20.

    One of the challenges Radnor's Lou faces in taking over the department and staging a controversial play like Spring Awakening is winning over the small town's residents, many of whom don't understand the importance of arts in education. "That's really at the core of what the show is about," Katims says, pointing to some of the many student activists who have emerged in Florida following the deadly shooting at Parkland High School. Many of the advocates for gun control participate in the school's drama club — and as Katims notes, "at least one, maybe more, was in a production of Spring Awakening when that happened." In a bid to practice what it preaches, NBC recently awarded 50 $10,000 grants to theater programs across the country, many of which had budgets of less than $400 and were on the cusp of being shut down.

    While Rise has already had its share of controversy — Katims' January comments were misconstrued and the show was accused of "straight-washing" Lou as Volpe in Drama High (as he is in reality) came out as gay after 25 of his 44 years running the program. Katims met extensively with Volpe and Drama High author Michael Sokolove (who was one of Volpe's students) while also visiting the town where he taught in a bid to capture as much of Lou's spirit as he could without doing a page-by-page take on the source material and Volpe's life. "One of the things I learned from both Friday Night Lights and Parenthood was that I had to make this show my own," Katims says of his two film-to-TV reboots. "It was always intended to be a show inspired by a real story but not based on it. And I wanted to do a lot of my own work of creating my own fictionalized version of this so I could lean into everything I wanted to as a storyteller."

    Full Article: How NBC's 'Rise' Wants to Go Beyond the Typical High School Musical Show