Executive Producer Jason Katims Looks Back on Six Seasons of ‘Parenthood’

Parenthood

The cast of Parenthood (Photo: NBC).

As Parenthood draws to a close, ending its six year run this Thursday night, passionate fans of the show are hopeful that the series will conclude with a satisfactorily send off for everyone in the Braverman clan.

Addressing the fandom, Jason Katims, Parenthood’s creator and showrunner, says, “We have a very loyal and passionate audience and I’m extremely grateful for that and obviously, you want to please them. I feel very proud of the final episode. I think it came out really well and the great thing is that we knew from the beginning of this season that it was going to be the final season, so we knew from the very first day in the writer’s room that we were working toward an ending of the show. That’s a great gift to get and not one that you always get when working on a show. We had that going for us and it helped us to build a season that hopefully leads up to what everyone will feel is the perfect closure for this show. I’m really pretty confident that our fans will feel like it’s the right ending for everyone.”

Finding that ending wasn’t difficult for the writing staff of the show, but it wasn’t exactly easy either, explains Mr. Katims. “There were a few things that we started with the very first day in the writer’s room that we had as instincts about where the show should get to. We started with a few building blocks where we knew a general shape of what we were driving to. That kind of came very organically but making all of it work, between the first episode of the season and the final one, was a bit tricky. In my mind, when you write a script the first act is always the hardest act to write for me and the third or final act is always the easiest because by that time you’ve reached that point in the script where everything is inevitable, so I kind of felt that way about where we got to when we were reaching the final episode of the show, that a lot of what we’d done before, and not just this season but in earlier seasons as well, was really leading up to where we get to in the end.”

Mr. Katims, who prior to Parenthood helmed the popular drama Friday Night Lights, has some knowledge about bringing a show to a successful close as he concluded that series after a successful five year run.

When asked if he brought anything from that experience to Parenthood, Mr. Katims remarked, “Actually, yes. The endings of these two shows are different in many ways, but they do share one thing which is that in both cases you get a little bit of a glimpse into the future. In Friday Night Lights we had a flash forward and we do something similar but in a little bit of a different way in Parenthood. We give glimpses into where our characters are and a little bit more about their trajectory. The episode is about the show coming to an end but it also suggests that these characters will continue to live on.”

During its on-air tenure, Parenthood has become known for its depiction of serious drama with many fans remarking that it’s virtually impossible to watch without some Kleenex within arm’s reach. Mr. Katims admits that often the subject matter affected him as well. “A lot of the stories took a lot out of me. The breast cancer story was hard because my wife had just gone through that. That was hard because it was not only personal but almost too close to present tense for me. The Zeek story, with he and the family dealing with his health, was hard for me too because again, it was so personal. But, I think that there’s this thing that the more personal something is, the more people can relate to it, so I feel like you have to tell those stories, even if they’re painful. You can’t shy away from them.”

Amid all of the drama, Mr. Katims was happily surprised by a few things while producing the series. “One thing that really was amazing to me was that in the very, very beginning when you start working on something like this, and you’re writing the pilot, you sort of have your hopes and dreams of what the show can be, you don’t know exactly what it will be, but you hope that it all comes together and is well-received and things like that. I’m extremely happy that in case what it actually came to be far exceeded those first expectations—far exceeded.”

Mr. Katims went on to explain how he believes this happened, saying, “I think that has to do with the alchemy of the large ensemble coming together and how the sum of the show is greater than its parts. The first moments where I got excited about the potential of this show beyond what I thought it could be, I was in the editing room watching one of the early episodes—maybe the second, or third, or fourth—and I remember this feeling of getting really sucked into a scene and compelled by that story and then coming to a completely different storyline in another family unit that had nothing to do with the one before it and I was like, ‘oh yeah, those guys! What’s happening with those guys?’ I felt like right then I had the viewer experience of it. That was a very cool, surprising feeling, totally unexpected, but great.”

He goes on to reveal another surprise, one that came in the form of an addition to the cast. “Another unforeseen thing, or person, that came along was Ray Romano,” says Mr. Katims. “Ray was a Friday Night Lights fan and he came to Texas to watch us shoot. We talked a lot about the process and stuff and then he left. Then he called me and made a joke that he was available because he’d just found out that the show he was working on, Men of a Certain Age, wasn’t moving forward. I sort of had to ask him if he was serious and when I found out he was, and that’s how Hank was born. But, I have to say that we weren’t  expecting that to be a character that we were going to be able to continue to write for and then Hank became so much more than we initially planned. The character really became part of the family of the show which was unexpected. From the very first day that he started shooting I knew he was going to be a great guest but he really became part of the core fabric of the show.”

Now that all of the work is done and all that’s left is for the finale to air, Mr. Katims admits that he’s needed a little time to grieve the ending of this part of his creative life. “Strangely, I’m kind of mourning both Parenthood and Friday Night Lights at once because they overlapped for me and even though the shows are very, very different shows to anyone watching them, to me they’re so closely linked to each other and I approached them in a very similar way as a storyteller. You have to realize that between those two shows it’s been over eight years or so—six seasons of one and five of the other—and that’s a lot of television in a fairly compressed amount of time. But now having said that, I don’t know if ‘mourning’ is the right word, what I really think I’m feeling is more like being reflective about all of it. I’m very proud of what we did on both shows and I’m trying to use that to inspire me to figure out what the next thing is.”

So what’s that next thing on Mr. Katim’s agenda? “At the moment I’m really creatively inspired by not only having been lucky enough to create and oversee two great shows from day one through their final episode, but I’m also by inspired by everything that I’m currently seeing on TV. There’s just such great work being done right now and that’s resulted in some really innovative and wonderful shows that I think are just amazing. Seeing the level of work out there now is motivating me to find the next thing for me to latch onto and through that I’ll try to keep growing as a writer and keep telling stories that are compelling and that draw people in. If I can keep doing that, then I’m good.”

The Parenthood series finale airs Thursday night at 10 p.m. EST on NBC.