"I Realized I Was Eric"
I first realized how popular Undeclared should be when I watched the pilot with my mother. Despite being put-off by promos that pimped the show as a wacky horndog comedy, Mom warmed up to it pretty fast. When Hal walked into the dorm party on Steven's first night, she groaned, "God, every kid's worst nightmare!" And at the end, when a glowing Steven figured he'd found a real girlfriend, Mom yelped, "Oh, he's going to get his heart broken!"
Mom had connected with what's so appealing about the show -- its familiarity and relatability. If its characters or stories don't strike a directly personal chord, then they almost always bring to mind someone you knew, or a situation you vaguely remember from those fuzzy days way back when. Its humor can be broad or subtle, but either way, the show never compromises that soul. Still, Undeclared is struggling, saddled with an 8:30 PM Tuesday berth that pits it against quality hours like Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Gilmore Girls -- shows that not only pilfer ratings points but hoard viewers in the desirable youth demographic. FOX has already moved onto The Next Big Thing, leaving Undeclared alone to founder on a roster of comedies that are, in large part, far crappier yet inexplicably secure.
It's becoming an unhappy theme for Judd Apatow that his on-screen love letters to life (Undeclared and Freaks & Geeks) aren't exactly being handled with care. NBC played the time-slot tango with F&G so long that its audience couldn't keep up, and it got cancelled fifteen episodes into its acclaimed run. While FOX has left Undeclared exactly where it started, the show's episode order was slashed from a full twenty-two to just seventeen, and FOX hasn't denied that it might pull the plug.
Apatow admits he's cautious about likening his FOX experience to what happened at NBC. Rather than rail on FOX for letting Undeclared hover near death, he's enough of a politician to appreciate that FOX gave his show life at all, and in fact, he's currently working on another pilot for the network called Life on Parole, about a burnt-out parole officer (and starring Michael Bolton himself -- Dave Herman from Office Space).
So, in the spirit of celebrating what's gone right with Undeclared, Apatow let me meet him, his writers, and some of his producers at the show's modest offices at Hollywood's Sunset-Gower Studios. (The only missing writers are Seth Rogen, who has already been put through the TWoP wringer, and supervising producer Rodney Rothman.) The group is as follows: Kristofor Brown, writer/producer; Jenni Konner, writer; Lew Morton, co-executive producer; Joel Madison, writer/consulting producer, Ali Rushfield, writer; Nick Stoller, writer; and Judd Apatow, creator, writer, and co-executive producer.