On Fox's Stage 20 in Century City, tension was building during a rehearsal of the television network's freshman comedy "Dads."
The disharmony had nothing to do with the cloud that has hung over "Dads" since even before its launch last September when it was savaged by a plethora of national TV critics and bloggers who declared the Seth MacFarlane series humorless, not to mention misogynistic and racist.
Instead, this brewing conflict was internal and of a comic nature. David (Peter Riegert), one of the politically incorrect titular fathers, and Edna (Tonita Castro), his rotund Mexican housekeeper who speaks in broken English, were fighting over the remote control. He wanted to watch "Homeland," she wanted to tune into "Real Housewives of Guadalajara."
"'Homeland' — always the same," said Edna with her heavy accent, as she made loopy gestures around her head in reference to the show's troubled heroine Carrie Mathison. "'I crazy. I crazy.' KA-BOOM!"
Eventually, the "Homeland" joke was cut, but surprisingly, given the social media firestorm that greeted it weeks before its fall premiere, the series has not been — yet. Despite a rocky start, the program, which wraps up its first season Tuesday, is still alive and has not been ruled out for a slot on next season's schedule.
Though the verdict on whether "Dads" will return won't be announced for months, Fox Entertainment Chairman Kevin Reilly, who gave the series a full season pickup soon after it premiered, continues to be a cheerleader for the series.
"I think 'Dads' has come a long way," Reilly told TV reporters and critics last month. "If you've actually watched the show — and secretly I know some of you are because I've heard from a few people who have quietly admitted that it's actually kind of funny — it is funny. The cast is as good as any on television. It makes me laugh…. They've smoothed out some of the choppiness that they had in the pilot."
Since its return from midseason break in January, the comedy has performed steadily, scoring its highest ratings in the last three weeks since its premiere and maintaining an audience around 3.8 million. (In December, however, the network announced it was reducing the show's back order of episodes from nine to six, making its first season 19 episodes instead of the usual 22.)
At least publicly, the network's executives express support for the show built around a couple thirtysomething men whose lives are upended when their cranky fathers move in with them.
"We really like the material and what's being done," said Suzanna Makkos, Fox's head of comedy.
That's welcome news to the show's producers, who blame the initial outcry against the show at the annual summer TV press tour for undercutting its ratings. Producers say a mob mentality among critics and bloggers mischaracterized their show as perpetuating racial stereotypes and offensive humor.
"It hurt the show," said executive producer Alec Sulkin. "We were surprised and unhappy that the show got that response. Racism is such a tricky word, and once that finger has been pointed, it's easier for a group to agree than for someone to disagree, and there are people out there who still have that perception about us."
The reaction stunned executives, particularly since the show hailed from network favorite MacFarlane and two of his key writers, Sulkin and Wellesley Wild. The tone of the live-action program, if anything, was relatively subdued compared to MacFarlane's popular animated "Family Guy" series, in which jokes involving races, ethnicity, sex and religion are routine.
Much of the initial uproar was directed at the show's premiere episode, in which a character played by Brenda Song dresses like a giggly Asian schoolgirl — complete with uniform and knee socks, but with unbuttoned blouse — for a business meeting with Chinese investors. Of the gathering, the show's other father, played by Martin Mull, said: "The Chinese are a lovely and honorable people, but you can't trust them — there's a reason Shanghai is a verb."
"'Dads' is so racist, and so tremendously unfunny," wrote Alyssa Rosenberg, features editor of the ThinkProgress website, who was one of the more vocal critics of the show. She labeled the series "reprehensible" and "morally wrong."
Some of the show's insiders have been bewildered by the onslaught, particularly when other series that dabble in ethnic stereotypes, such as CBS' "2 Broke Girls" and "Mike and Molly" and ABC's "Modern Family," to name three — seemed to have escaped similar criticism.
"I don't quite understand why this has happened," said Riegert. "But this is as much fun as I've ever had working on a project."