The Comeback Kids of 'Brothers & Sisters'

FamilyTelevisionMarriageEntertainmentDave AnnableDrama (genre)Sally Field

Before the 2006-07 TV season started, "Brothers & Sisters" was that season's Troubled Show, having undergone major revisions both in front of and behind the camera.

The surgery on the pilot pushed back the shooting schedule, eliminating some of the workshopping time shows normally get before they premiere. Consequently, its cast and crew were figuring things out while the show was on the air.

"We were creating parts of the show as we were going along," says executive producer Greg Berlanti, who came aboard about a month before "Brothers & Sisters" premiered. "We didn't know -- what does our best episode look like and feel like? What dynamics feel real? ... One of the elements of this show, for sure, is it's a family show, but it's sort of like a family show on crack.

"So if from time to time we rush stuff and it feels more accelerated and has more of that kind of energy, it was us trying to find that."

A funny thing happened to this Troubled Show as it premiered, though: It was good. Wary critics warmed to the Walker family, and audiences took to it as well; it averaged a little under 11 million viewers last season and finished among the top 40 shows on television. Earlier this month Sally Field won an Emmy for her portrayal of matriarch Nora Walker.

The show thus begins its second season Sunday (Sept. 30) in a much more stable position, at least off screen. On screen, the Walkers continue their tumultuous lives. When we last saw them, youngest son Justin (Dave Annable) was off to Iraq, family rock Sarah (Rachel Griffiths) was seeing her marriage crumble and eldest daughter Kitty (Calista Flockhart) got engaged to a senator (Rob Lowe, now a cast regular).

"I know I'm planning a wedding, I know that eventually Rob and I are meant to get married," Flockhart says during a visit to the show's set in late July. "Whether we actually do, that's another story. But I think it will be fun to explore -- when you're in a new relationship and there are kids and stepkids and his big family. ... There are a lot of things to play with, so that'll be good."

On the other side of the marital scale, Sarah is trying to figure out how her marriage imploded, which Griffiths said will not be easy for her normally decisive character. The fact that Sarah is "effective," as Griffths put it, was a big part of what drew her to the role after five years of playing the eternally wavering Brenda Chenowith on "Six Feet Under."

"I loved playing Brenda, but she never got anything done," Griffiths says. "... This just felt like a great relief to actually play a woman who's effective. She can make a decision and most of the time is successful in realizing her choices. Which I think is why it's hard for her to accept the marriage [falling apart]. I think it'll be a journey for her -- when she makes a choice, she thinks she can will it to be."

Both actresses say they were aware of the "troubled" talk early last season, although they note that no one on set ever questioned the quality of the work they were doing.

"I think we made some changes that were really great, but every show does that," Flockhart says. "You start off going in one direction, you say 'That doesn't work, but this works. And this works, but that doesn't' -- you kind of just fudge. The problem is, we had to do it on the air. So I think we just got labeled with that because we were an easy target. But I never took it seriously."

Almost to a person, the cast and crew say that within a couple of episodes, the show had found its rhythm. Creator Jon Robin Baitz, heading up his first series, credits Berlanti's gift for organization and the cast's ability to handle the show's mix of comedy and drama.

"What do I know, you know?" Baitz says of the early struggles. "I believe everything is a process, and I knew that if we found our footing the audience would be patient with us, and it would turn around. And that's exactly what happened.

"It was absolutely a struggle, it was absolutely frustrating. It was absolutely heart-breaking at times. But we all decided to fight for it as hard as we could. We knew what the potential was."

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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