Erin Cardillo and Richard Keith are actors who formed a writing partnership. They are now the creators, writers and Executive Producers of The CW’s Significant Mother. I recently spoke with them about the show. To find out what they had to say, read on.
How did you come up with the idea for Significant Mother?
Richard Keith (RK): “Erin and I met with Tripp Reed, our showrunner from Alloy Entertainment, almost three years ago. We had written a spec pilot he liked, so he called us in to discuss an idea they had been tossing around in-house. All it was at the time was a title, ‘So I Married Your MILF’ (laughs). From there they were pretty open to interpretation about what the show could be. We went away for a few weeks and came back with a pitch.
The show you’re watching now is the evolution of that pitch based on Alloy’s original idea. We wanted to make it grounded and give it a little depth if we could. We didn’t want to do a show about a desperate Mom or ‘Mrs. Robinson’. We wanted to do a show about something more. One of the things we deal with in the show is what it means to be friends with your parents.
We approached Lydia (the mom) from the point of view that she’s in the same emotional place in her life now as Nate (her son) and Jimmy (his best friend/her new boyfriend). She’s trying to figure out who she is and what this next chapter in her life might look like post divorce.”
Are any of the characters based on anyone you know?
Erin Cardillo (EC): “In some of the other scripts we’ve written that is absolutely the case. But these characters all stemmed from our imagination. There are certainly elements of both of us in all the characters, but nobody is specifically based on anyone we know in real life.”
RK: “We took a bit of each our personalities and scattered them across the characters. Erin and Lydia have a fair amount in common, Erin’s a little more put together I think than Lydia is though. She’s more focused (laughs). There’s a lot of Nate in me. I’m definitely a bit Type-A and controlling. Its kind of fun to let that side of myself run wild when we’re writing the show. I also love gardening so that’s where the Atticus character came from. And I think Jimmy does of all the spur of the moment, impulsive, from the heart things that Erin and I both wish we could do sometimes, but don’t. Like sleeping with friends moms. (Joking).”
EC: “Oh, and I’m a big fan of comedy songs! So the idea of creating a character who sings and writes comedic songs came from me.”
The show was originally planned as a web series for CW Seed, was it difficult expanding the concept for a twenty-two minute long comedy television series?
EC: “We actually wrote the web series as twenty-two minute show. When CW Seed bought the idea, they asked sixty-four minutes of content. We were allowed to break that up however we wanted to, so we just went ahead and wrote full twenty-two minute episodes. We were going to air them on CW Seed as two-part episodes (in ten or eleven minute chunks with a ‘To Be Continued’ in between.)
But, our goal was to have the show end up on the network. So, we made a TV ready product even at the web series stage. Just in case.”
RK: “We called it a ‘thrilot’ because it was like a three episode pilot. For me and Erin, being first time creators, it was also a chance to prove to the network that we could take this idea beyond the concept and find more to explore.”
You both began your careers as actors, how was it transitioning to writing?
EC: “We did both start as actors, but we were always writing in some capacity. I started writing features. Rich was also writing features and a ton of sketch comedy at ACME Comedy Theatre in LA. I think writing sort of started out as a hobby for both of us and then took over. Both as our passion and in terms of our careers. We kind of fell in love with the writing process. It’s been nice that it’s taken off in an amazing way we didn’t expect.”
RK: “Writing is also a fun chance to not only play on-screen, but also play in our living rooms, or coffee shops, or wherever we happen to be writing. We get to oversee the entire story. As an actor, you’re really just responsible for your character and keeping true to your character’s perspective. It’s been really fun and challenging to oversee a whole world of characters. And to plot their course in that world.”
EC: “In some ways it’s kind of a natural progression, I think.”
How did your writing partnership begin?
EC: “We met in acting class a little over ten years ago at a place called Warner Loughlin Studios in Hollywood. When we started writing, we’d read each other’s work and we realized we had similar tastes, styles and sensibility. Then, Rich had an idea for a TV pilot. He came to me and asked if I wanted to write it with him. I loved the idea, so we wrote a spec pilot and that opened a lot of doors for us. It led to everything we’re doing now.”
RK: “I actually met our show runner, Tripp, when I auditioned for Dating Rules for my Future Self. Shiri Appleby was the lead in that (also a Warner Loughlin Studios person). I went in and improvised more than I should have (laughs), so, I did not get the job. But, Erin and I were working together on that pilot at the time, so when Tripp called my managers to ask if I was also a writer, we send him our pilot and it all tied together that way. I never would have thought meeting Erin in acting class that we’d end up business partners. And then meeting Tripp at that audition… you just have to put everything out there and follow any opportunities that come your way.”
Do you have a favorite character on Significant Mother?
RK: “I’m going to cheat and give two answers, because they’re very different. My favorite character to watch on-set is Nate, because Josh is so gifted. All of our actors are, but that role in particular – being the straight man and the connecting character for the audience – it wouldn’t be unusual for that role to be the boring one to watch. But watching Josh take some simple, basic reactions or lines and bring such humor to them, that’s really fun to see. That’s Part A.
And Part B, I love Atticus. He’s such a fun, strange character. I really enjoy writing for him.”
EC: “I would say there are pieces of all of the characters that are my favorite. I actually love writing for Jimmy because he’s a little half step back in his logic. I don’t want to call him dumb, because he’s not dumb. He just sort of beats to his own drum, but he’s optimistic and that’s fun to explore. Then, there are aspects of both of the ladies that I really enjoy. Like Rich said, I feel connected to the character of Lydia the most. Her plight as a woman starting over later in life, isn’t my story, but there are elements of that I can relate to. Then writing the songs for Sam (with Rich and Emma Fitzpatrick) are one of the most fun things.”
RK: “That’s definitely a blast. Emma is such a talented musician. The three of us write the songs together. It’s really cool getting to learn from Emma, to see how she takes our lyrics and puts them to music to elevate the funny.”
Emma’s songs are really funny, they remind me of Phoebe’s Smelly Cat.
RK: “I’ll take that” (laughs).
Have any of the Significant Mother characters changed since your original conception?
RK : “They’ve all evolved. We didn’t necessarily write Atticus as a British gentleman. What Jay Ali brought in – having the accent he has – allowed us to write Atticus more colorfully and to have him feel more grounded at the same time, so we decided to run with it. Jay also improvises a lot and uses some of his own “home-grown” lines whenever he can (laughs) which we love. Harrison has also evolved a lot, just because we weren’t sure that character was going to stick around. But Jonathan Silverman brought such a charm and likability to him, so we’ve been working on finding more depth to him as the season went on.”
How long does it take you to write a typical episode of the show?
EC: “It really varied. The digital episodes (which was also the network pilot and episode 103) took months because we had so many layers of notes – everyone (studio/network) was working together to try to get it right. But as production went on, time got away from us, so we ended up writing some of the the later episodes from start to shoot in under two weeks. Or maybe less (laughs).
It was really an interesting process just because of how quick the timeline was from our series order to our air dates. There was a huge gap between when we were doing the digital version of the show and when the series was picked up. So some episodes took longer and some shorter, so it’s hard to say what a “typical episode” took. Rich, how would you answer that?” (laughs).
RK: “Really hard to say. Episode 102 took us a little over two years because of way the drafts were spread out (not full-time)… but, if I had to average, I would say a month each. Sometimes it’s better to have a lot of time to think and rethink. And sometimes it isn’t. We think it all balanced out in the end.”
EK: “And we sort of got into a flow as we went on. The characters and the stories started coming together easier.”
When you appear as actors on the show, is it hard to separate yourself from being writers?
RK: “You know for me, my character was in this one long shot where we were trying to get the whole scene in one take, so it was actually kind of nice to be right there if the actors had questions. I was participating in the scene so I could feel if it was working in a different way. And knowing Erin was at the monitor watching as a writer and producer took some of the stress out of it. But, if I wasn’t in a partnership, I think it would have been difficult doing both at the same time.”
EK: “It was nice that we weren’t acting in the same scenes together (laughs). We trust each other, so it was good to have the other looking out.”
RK: “Producing a show can be really stressful, so on the days we were acting, it good to not have to worry about that aspect and just enjoy playing.”
Where do you envision all the characters in Season Two?
EC: “Well, we leave season one with the answer to that question… I don’t know how many spoilers we can give… Rich, what do you think?”
RK: “I think you’ll see a welcome and not-so-traditional progression of Jimmy and Lydia’s relationship.”
EK: “You’ll see Nate forced to deal with his father in a similar way to how he had to deal with his mother this season. It could get interesting.”
RK: “And you’ll an escalation of the Nate and Sam relationship. They will take some steps forward.”
Significant Mother airs Mondays at 9:30/8:30c on The CW.