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Interview with 'Chasing Life' EP Patrick Sean Smith: College to cancer

Patrick Sean Smith took us to college as creator and executive producer of Greek. Now, he’s the EP of Chasing Life, and he’s given us a look into how the show transformed from a Mexican telenovela to one of ABC Family’s most successful shows, and how they’ve tackled the heavy subject of cancer.

He’s almost always a presence on Twitter when new episodes air on Monday nights, but in this exclusive, we dig much deeper than 140 characters.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY COMMUNITY: You were the creator/EP of Greek, and now the EP of Chasing Life. What attracts you to developing this young adult genre of TV?

PATRICK SEAN SMITH: I’ve always been a fan of young adult television. I grew up on 90210 and the early WB days with Buffy and Dawson’s Creek, and a lot of that inspired Greek for me. It was at a time when the young adult genre was mostly dramatic and not lending itself to a lot of comedy. This was back with the success of Desperate Housewives and Ugly Betty. So I developed Greek in the tradition of ’80s dramedies that I love so much, John Hughes and Cameron Crowe, and just had an amazing time with that world and those characters. It went four seasons and exceeded all my expectations and was wonderful. When we were done, I was developing a couple projects at various networks, and was not getting traction in those, as everything became superhero. I had no superhero advantage.

ABC Family had already shot the pilot for Chasing Life, and they approached me about being the showrunner. The two women who developed the pilot from the Mexican format, Terminales, Joni Lefkowitz and Susanna Fogel, are brilliant young writers who hadn’t really worked on television, so they needed a showrunner. And honestly, when I first heard of the idea, I was nervous about dealing with something as heavy a subject as cancer. What they did so beautifully in the pilot was finding a world that could support the drama as well as the comedy in a way that felt authentic and real and honest, and I got excited about that. So now we’re in the last couple episodes of the first season, and we’re already into breaking the fourth episode of the second season. I’m just having a blast.

A lot of successful shows focus on high school or college, as in Greek. In Chasing Life, we’ve skipped the high school and college stage of April’s life. Why do you think it’s been just as adored by fans as those other shows?

I mean, for me, I’ve always been excited about doing the post-college experience. We touched on it in Greek near the end with some of our kids. Movies, and shows like Girls, try to really tap into that 20-something experience. Unfortunately, I’ve found it hard to care. And I think people have a hard time caring because the stakes have typically been, it’s my first job and it’s my first apartment. The stakes have never been huge. So what I saw as an opportunity with Chasing Life is to capture that 20-something experience, but to have the stakes of a life-threatening illness playing into it. I think that makes it more compelling. Fortunately, we don’t have to end every act out or end every episode with a health scare for April; we’re very judicious about that. But I think underneath it all, what April is going through is very universal. Having to deal with big adult problems that when you’re in your 20s seem huge, and hoping that you’re making the right decisions to create a foundation for your adult life.

The cast has gotten involved in Stand Up 2 Cancer and Stupid Cancer. How have those communities responded to the show? Have you received any feedback?

I have. The people in the cancer community have been incredibly supportive, which has been so important to every person on the show. I think in the beginning for me, when I came onto the show, my life hadn’t been touched by cancer through myself or anybody that I really knew. So I came to it with a very clean perspective. The only thing that I had known of cancer stories was what I’d seen on TV.

And when we did the research and started working with a couple of different advisors, the stories that I got excited about were the ones that I hadn’t seen before, that were very true to the experience. Being able to, in the first 10 episodes, have April confront the issue of fertility—which I wasn’t even aware was an issue with chemotherapy—was exciting. I felt there were so many stories to tell that hadn’t been told before, just by digging deeper into the experience.

And members of the cancer community and cancer organizations have really embraced us into their community. To me, that is kind of the biggest thing. That makes me the most proud, that we have a show that people who are going through such a hard time can really relate to and hopefully feel uplifted with it. Like I said, Greek was a huge life achievement for me. Chasing Life has surprised me by being a second one. We’re doing something that we feel is so important and helpful.

A few characters provide much-needed comedic relief to the heavy topic of the show. Will we see more character development of secondary characters?

We will and we do—certain characters. The show is really so much about April that when we can take the time, and we have a story that’s really worth telling for our secondary characters, we definitely take it. What’s going on with Sara right now, as she sort of goes to chase life last night with Owen (Jay Ferguson from Mad Men), it’s fun to see her kind of adopting some of what April is starting to learn for herself, given her illness. It’s going to take Sara back to the issue that she’s been dealing with through the first season, which is the betrayal of her husband and this second family that he kept secret for so long. So we’re definitely heading into that direction with Sara. We’re exploring more of Brenna and Greer. We explore more of Beth and Graham’s relationship. Anytime that there’s a story that we happen upon for secondary characters, we definitely want to dig into that as well, just to find a balance in the show so it isn’t all on April’s shoulders.

Natalie has added some interesting drama to the show. Will she stay in Boston permanently?

She’s not leaving, but I don’t know if I’d say she is permanent. As we’re looking at the second season, I think what Natalie represents right now is April’s hopeful savior being the bone-marrow donor. But she also represents a link to her father, and I think there is still a lot more to mine with that. So I think she’ll always be a part of our world, but I don’t know if she’ll be permanent for every episode for seasons to come.

Are you Team Leo or Team Dominic?

I love them both. I feel like what I learned from the central love triangle of Greek, with Evan and Cappie and Casey, is that I need to feel like I’m rooting for all three to be fair overall. But then in each episode, one guy steps up a little bit more, and then the other guy steps up a little bit more, and I think that’s what makes it compelling. If I was anti-one of them, I think that would probably come through and not be as interesting as the stuck place April finds herself. She’s between this guy who she really, really cares for, who would have been the perfect guy had she not been diagnosed with cancer. Then there’s the one who has this epic bond with her and the shared experience that can speak to her life post-diagnosis.

What’s it like working with this crew?

I hate to sound clichéd, but it is a family. They’ve all been in this unique situation with this show—that they got to work together for many, many months before it was even out in the world—so I think that was a bonding experience in and of itself. I think also, just given the weight of the subject matter, that it really kind of connects them. You see that they’re willing to be vulnerable with one another, which is not something you always get. So to have a cast that can be so fearless and so supportive, all at the same time, is a gift. I think it it shows in the episodes, fortunately.

Is there a particular reason why is April a journalist?

In all honesty, it was based on the Mexican format Terminales. In that telenovela, she was a journalist for a flashy magazine. As I understand, when Joni and Susanna came into it, they opted to ground her, which I think was a really smart call, and to put her in the world of newspapers. Which, again, a show just about a newspaper probably would have a hard time getting an audience, but the fact that it’s just an element of everything that’s going on in the show has served the character well in the first season. The fact that we can see a strong female character with real ambitions and goals that are respectful, I think, has spoken a lot to the success of the show and of the character. It’s nice to see smart women in television and ambitious women in television, and I think April Carver is definitely one of them.

Are there any tidbits of surprises in season two that you can hint at?

What I can say to it, which doesn’t speak to season two directly, is that the finale coming up is a huge turning point. It really kind of sends April’s life into a whole different direction, which has been exciting for the second season. This finale is kind of our biggest episode, and it really just kind of sets us up nicely for new worlds for April for season two.

Chasing Life airs Mondays at 9/8C on ABC Family.

TV Families | EW.com
Mark Harris
February 23, 1990 AT 05:00 AM EST

The Bradys are back, with a passel of 90’s hassles. Do they represent the typical American Family? Did they ever? Who does? Stare and compare!

Kind Of Family
TheBradyBunch 1969-74: Blended
The Bradys 1990-: Enormous
Married…With Children 1987-: Postnuclear
Thirtysomething 1987-: Extended
The Flintstones 1960-66: Modern Stone Age

Family Pet
The Brady Bunch: Tiger
The Bradys: Alice
Married…With Children: Buck
Thirtysomething: Grendel
The Flintstones: Dino

Typical Guest Star
The Brady Bunch: Davey Jones
The Bradys: There’s no room
Married…With Children: Sam Kinison
Thirtysomething: Carly Simon
The Flintstones: Ann Margrock

Expression Of Joy
The Brady Bunch: Groovy!
The Bradys: Ritual hugging
Married…With Children: ”Oh, great.”
Thirtysomething: ”Of course I’m happy for you. Really. But what about me? Why does it always have to be about you?
The Flintstones: ”Yabba-dabba doo

Expression Of Rage

The Brady Bunch: ”Hmmm…”
The Bradys: ”If you back away from something you really want, then you’re a quitter!” (the angriest any Brady has ever been)
Married…With Children: ”Aaagh, God, take me from this miserable life!”
Thirtysomething: ”I’m not angry, OK?”
The Flintstones: ”Willllmaaaa!”

Typical Problem
The Brady Bunch: Marcia and her rival both want to be the prom queen.
The Bradys: Bobby gets paralyzed.
Married…With Children: Al doesn’t buy his family Christmas presents.
Thirtysomething: Nancy gets cancer.
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney are staying out too late.

Typical Solution
The Brady Bunch: The prom committee decides to have two queens.
The Bradys: Bobby gets married.
Married…With Children: They hate him.
Thirtysomething: If only we knew…
The Flintstones: Wilma and Betty decide to follow them.

House Style
The Brady Bunch: Conservative but mod, circa ’69
The Bradys: Conservative but mod, circa ’90
Married…With Children: Roach motel
Thirtysomething: Enviable
The Flintstones: Suburban cave

Clothing Style
The Brady Bunch: Early Osmonds
The Bradys: Made in the USA
Married…With Children: Flammable fabrics
Thirtysomething: Eclectic earth tones; nice ties
The Flintstones: One-piece

Most Annoying Character
The Brady Bunch: Alice’s cousin Emma, the substitute housekeeper (too strict)
The Bradys: Marcia’s husband, Wally (chronically unemployable)
Married…With Children: Steve (supercilious)
Thirtysomething: Ellyn (goes through Hope’s drawers, babbles, changes hairstyle every other week, generally mistreats her friends)
The Flintstones: Mr. Slate (bossy)

Attitude Toward Sex
The Brady Bunch: Never heard of it
The Bradys: Omigod — even Cindy does it!
Married…With Children: Peg: Yes. Al: No.
Thirtysomething: They didn’t get all those kids by accident.
The Flintstones: Prehistoric

How Spouses Fight
The Brady Bunch: They don’t.
The Bradys: Infrequently, but it happens
Married…With Children: Tooth and nail
Thirtysomething: They stop talking
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney go bowling while Wilma and Betty max out their charge cards.

How Kids Get Into Trouble
The Brady Bunch: Greg takes a puff of a cigarette.
The Bradys: Carol’s grandson steals her business cards and sticks them in the spokes of Bobby’s wheelchair.
Married…With Children: By committing felonies
Thirtysomething: Ethan plays with a forbidden toy rocket.
The Flintstones: They don’t.

How They’re Punished

The Brady Bunch: ”It’s not what you did, honey — it’s that you couldn’t come to us.”
The Bradys ”Next time, ask.”
Married…With Children: By the authorities
Thirtysomething: It blows up in his face.
The Flintstones: They’re not.

What Family Does For Fun
The Brady Bunch: Takes special three-part vacations to Hawaii and the Grand Canyon
The Bradys: Has flashbacks
Married…With Children: Exchanges insults
Thirtysomething: Talks
The Flintstones: Attends showings of The Monster at the Bedrock Drive-In

Unsolved Mysteries
The Brady Bunch: How exactly did Carol’s first husband and Mike’s first wife die?
The Bradys: What’s with Marcia’s new face and Bobby’s blonde hair
Married…With Children: What kind of hair spray does Peg use?
Thirtysomething: Why did Nancy take Elliot back? What do Gary and Susanna see in each other?
The Flintstones: How does Barney’s shirt stay on if he has no shoulders? Where do Fred and Wilma plug in their TV?

Worst Behavior
The Brady Bunch: The Brady children once made Alice feel under-appreciated.

The Bradys: Marcia’s son Mickey watches Bobby’s car-crash tape for fun.
Married…With Children: The Bundy’s kill their neighbor’s dog.
Thirtysomething: Elliot has an affair and talks about it.
The Flintstones: Characters don’t wear under-clothes.

Best Reason To Watch
The Brady Bunch: This is what life should be.
The Bradys: They’re all grown-ups now!
Married…With Children: Terry Rakolta hates it.
Thirtysomething (Tie) This is your life. This isn’t your life.
The Flintstones: This is what life might have been.

Best Reason Not To Watch
The Brady Bunch: Blurred vision from rerun overdoses.
The Bradys: You’re all grown-ups now.
Married…With Children: She has a point.
Thirtysomething: After a while, you think it’s real.
The Flintstones: The Simpsons

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