Most of the recent wave of TV reboots and revivals have been disappointing at best, but I really enjoyed Netflix’s One Day at a Time remake, which manages to feel both old and new at the same time, and is in many ways an improvement on the ’70s original. Though sitcom legend Norman Lear developed the original show and had the brainstorm to remake it with a Latino family at the center, the actual heavy lifting on the new version was done by comedy veterans Mike Royce and Gloria Calderon Kellett, who had never worked together before, but seemed destined to partner up on a Lear sitcom, since his most famous one, All in the Family, already had a Mike and Gloria. (Royce: “Norman took immense delight in one of our first emails when we signed it ‘Mike & Gloria.’ ‘I’ve got a new Mike & Gloria!'”)
A few weeks ago, I spoke with Calderon Kellett and Royce (pictured above on the left, along with Lear and stars Justina Machado and Rita Moreno) about how they got involved in the show, what aspects of the original they wanted to keep, how the fictional Alvarez family is patterned after Calderon Kellett’s own, and more. There are no real spoilers for the season, save for a joke that Moreno delivers in the finale, which is at the very end of the transcript. That’s all coming up just as soon as I wear a sheet mask…
What was the origin of each of you getting involved with this, and what was the mandate you got from Norman of what exactly they wanted you to do?
Mike Royce: Norman had this idea to have a Latino take on One Day at a Time, as a sort of re-imagining. They talked to me because I have experience sitcom-wise. They talked to us separately. It was super daunting at first to think about doing a Norman show again in any format, because it just seems like, “Oh my god.” How can you live up to anything that he’s ever done? Once they were talking about not doing the old scripts, but using the old show as a framework by which you can create a new show with the same premise, my mind really started percolating. I think Gloria did too separately, and then we met. Super duper successful work marriage.
Gloria Calderon Kellett: Yes. It’s true. He is our yenta. Norman brought us together. I was going to take a season off to develop. I had gotten the phone call, Norman Lear wants to have lunch with you. I was like, “What?” As one does. I went in there and he had presented the idea. He just asks great questions. We just had a great conversation for an hour and a half. He asked me about my family. What it was growing up. My parents came off of a plane not knowing any English. I think they knew “John is a boy, Mary is a girl.” That was it. He just asked about my upbringing and what it was like, et cetera. By the end of it, he said, “Great. Let’s do this.” I was like, “What?” Mike and I finally met each other. It was like, “Oh, this guy. He seems great. All right.”
Gloria, did your family come from Cuba?
Calderon Kellett: They did, both of them. My parents came in 1962 during Operation Pedro Pan, which we talk about on the show. Rita’s character, we make her a Pedro Pan kid. There were about 14,000 Cuban kids that came over between like ’60 and ’62 when we were trying to get Castro out. That didn’t work out, so they say many Cubans stayed in Miami, but many moved all around the country. My parents both ended up in Portland, Oregon weirdly enough. I’m West Coast Cuban. I was born in Portland where there’s a actually pretty vibrant Cuban community. We moved to San Diego for high school. I’ve been West Coast, not Miami at all, which always shocks people.
One Day at a Time had an afterlife in syndication for a while, but not as long as some of Norman’s other shows from that era. How much experience did you have with it beforehand?
Calderon Kellett: My mom is the second oldest of six, so I had young aunts that were like 10 years older than me, so they watched it. It was in the periphery, but I didn’t really grow up on Norman’s shows. I found them all afterwards, people talking about them, and then I would find them at the Paley Center. I didn’t know a lot about it. I sort of knew Schneider was a character and the handyman with the vest and cigarettes. Single mom. That’s all I really knew about that original series.
As you were preparing to actually remake it, did you revisit it at all or did you decide, “We’re not even going to worry about anything other than archetype of single mom, plus Schneider and whatever else we’re going to do”?
Calderon Kellett: We watched the first two together. In the (original) pilot, Mackenzie wants to go spend the night at a party with boys. She’s having an argument with her mother about it. We thought, “Okay. We’ll do something in that similar vein.” The second episode of the original series also deals with sexism, but boy, 1975 sexism’s different than modern sexism. After that, we had so much stuff that we wanted to talk about. We had already developed our characters now. We’re getting excited about them. That’s when we really started doing our own thing. We wanted to just keep that Norman Lear, “Let’s talk about real issues that are affecting a family” vibe and hopefully a real and organic way. Let’s try to live up to his canon of work. But we really didn’t watch any more shows, at least I didn’t really. I think we watched the one with the dad coming back, but that’s it for me.