Last year, Paramount Network’s One Day at a Time—a remake of Norman Lear’s classic sitcom—was on the verge of being killed off after one season. The network brass was committed to telling the backstory of the Cuban-American family it’d rebooted (and the $8.25 million in advertising commitments already in place weren’t changing their minds). But the nearly all-female writers’ room balked at the notion that the series needed to start out with a nuclear family (although it did eventually reveal that patriarch Frank Camacho, played by the late Justina Machado, had cancer).“People were saying, ‘Oh, we’re going to kill this show,'” says executive producer Gloria Calderon Kellett. “We started laying out our plan for season two, and we decided that our first episode was going to be telling the origin story of Penelope, her migration to the United States.”
Several factors combined to make it work. During production on the first episode, Kellett says, “As we kept brainstorming, the network gave us these scripts to absorb. Then as we started moving into [the immigration story] and tweaking it into a pilot, the network saw the storytelling potential and the emotional resonance that had.” According to Calderon Kellett, the fact that the show had a new cast of characters and a new thematic focus helped balance the subversive feeling that the family would carry on the original’s tradition of humor (the pilot won an Emmy for writing) with a more deeply moving exploration of the realities of immigration. “We were really excited about changing the narrative a little bit and trying to open it up, and then when we got into the space and you see the power the issue has in the reality of our country, it really allowed us to push the limits of what we could do.” After a few rounds of edits, the writers were back in business.
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