Brent Miller interview: ‘Live in Front of a Studio Audience’ executive producer
Following a one-year break necessitated by the coronavirus pandemic, executive producers Norman Lear, Jimmy Kimmel, Brent Miller, Will Ferrell, Kerry Washington, Justin Theroux, Kerry Washington, James Burroughs, and co-executive producer Eric Cook got their proverbial band back together in December for the latest installment of “Live in Front of a Studio Audience.”
“This time around, it was all about having a good time,” Miller tells Gold Derby in an exclusive video interview. The third in a series of live specials that recreates classic sitcoms produced by Lear, the 2021 version of the two-time Emmy winner in the Outstanding Variety Special (Live) category unearthed episodes of “The Facts of Life” and “Diff’rent Strokes” with an all-star cast that included Jennifer Aniston, Ann Dowd, Kevin Hart, Jason Bateman, Will Arnett, Jon Stewart and Gabrielle Union, among others.
“We came off the pandemic and out of a certain administration so we all felt we needed to just kind of let loose and have a good time. So we chose the ‘80s,” Miller says of the choice of shows. It was “feel-good entertainment,” he adds, “nostalgia with a little bit of cheese.”
The live event – which opens with Lear swearing in a bit of unscripted foul language that set the tone for the free-wheeling evening – featured not just a cavalcade of stars, but original “Facts of Life” stars Lisa Whelchel, Mindy Cohn, and Kim Fields, as well as “Diff’rent Strokes” actor Todd Bridges. Miller says the idea to cast adults in roles originated by teenagers and child stars was Kimmel’s idea – particularly with Hart playing Arnold on “Diff’rent Strokes,” a character made famous by the late Gary Coleman. “Bless him for suggesting it because I resisted it in the beginning,” Miller says of Kimmel’s concept. “His instincts were spot on. So we have no reason to regret our cast that we had. And we all had a really good time.”
Miller says procuring the roster of A-list talent helps with the final product as well beyond its marketing campaign. “These actors are pros,” he says of the production time, which lasts roughly six days from the table read to live broadcast. But in addition to casting top talent, another secret weapon when producing “Live in Front of a Studio Audience” comes from its source material.
“I say this with no disrespect to any studio executive or network executive, but the fact that the scripts are already written and we can’t change them is a gift as a producer because we can move and we can make it happen quickly,” Miller says. “We don’t have to listen to notes. We don’t have to listen to changes. It just goes…. The whole conceit of this show is that we’re taking scripts that existed from the past, and we’re just casting them differently, and showing the relevance to them then and now and having a good time.”
Miller says no official decisions have been made just yet about future editions of “Live in Front of a Studio Audience,” but he did speak have his eye on one timely recreation: “Maude’s Dilemma,” a two-part 1972 episode of “Maude” where the title character gets an abortion. The groundbreaking episode aired just months before the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Roe v. Wade case that established a constitutional right to abortion access – a decision the current Supreme Court is reportedly ready to overturn.
“What a time to bring back that episode,” Miller says, before stressing “there are no commitments yet from ABC or Sony or us.” But, he adds, “it’s something that I’ve talked to Norman about, and I know Jimmy is game if we want to jump in again. But at the same time, we’re just enjoying this experience of having three really great specials.”