Writer-producer Dan Fogelman’s ‘golden gut’ is in for a busy TV season with ‘Pitch,’ ‘This Is Us’

“This Is Us” creator Dan Fogelman also has his hands in another new series, "Pitch."
(Suzanne Kreiter/ The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

When the trailer for the new NBC drama “This Is Us” was unveiled on Facebook in mid-May, the response was overwhelming and surprising.

The roughly 2 1/2-minute preview nabbed nearly 15 million views in a little over 48 hours after its release — a number that has since quadrupled. On YouTube, the number of views has now reached more than 8.3 million.

The tune-in was particularly startling since the show is a low-key ensemble dramedy with no megastars or definable high concept to lure audiences. Not to mention a vague title.

It’s the sort of very unconventional measuring tool that had Dan Fogelman, the series creator, saying: this is nice … and, also, this is weird.

“I didn’t expect that a trailer was going to suddenly get press attention from getting so many hits,” Fogelman said in his office on the Paramount lot in Los Angeles. “But the TV world is so big. There’s so much stuff out there. I think we’re all looking for any metric to gauge success or that something is connecting with people.”

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The New Jersey native has found success on the big screen — he was a writer on the animated hits “Cars” and “Bolt” and wrote the screenplays for “Tangled” and the Steve Carell-Ryan Gosling romantic comedy “Crazy, Stupid Love.” But in recent years Fogelman has been seeking the same kind of rewards on television.

He created two offbeat comedies for ABC — 2014’s “Neighbors,” about a housing development inhabited by aliens, and last year’s medieval-flavored musical “Galavant.” He was an executive producer of last season’s Fox sitcom “Grandfathered,” about a swinging bachelor who discovers he’s a grandfather. All were short-lived.

This fall, Fogelman gets not only one, but two more tries. In addition to “This Is Us,” Fogelman is a key force behind Fox’s baseball drama “Pitch.” Both hour-long series are produced by 20th Century Fox, where Fogelman has a multi-year overall deal.

“This Is Us,” which premieres Sept. 20, centers on a group of individuals whose paths intersect, with their stories intertwining in intriguing ways. The series stars Mandy Moore (“Tangled”), Milo Ventimiglia (“Gilmore Girls”) and Sterling K. Brown (“The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story”).

“Pitch,” which he developed with Rick Singer, debuts Sept. 22. The drama stars Kylie Bunbury (“Under The Dome”) as Ginny Baker, the first woman to break the gender barrier in the major leagues.

Both series are headquartered on the Paramount lot, making it easy for Fogelman to trek back and forth between sets. He serves as the show runner of “This Is Us,” while “Pitch” is being helmed by Kevin Falls (“Sports Night,” “The West Wing”). In addition to executive producer duties, Fogelman plans to write and direct multiple episodes on both shows.

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“The fact that this guy is so crazy busy and doing a million things and is still so accessible to all of us is insane,” said Moore, who previously worked with Fogelman on Disney’s “Tangled.” ‘I’m that girl that will have one question about a line or a scene, and I know that I can email him and I’ll get an immediate response, or I can see him at lunch. He’s so available and wants to be a part of everything if he can.”

His path to in-demand writer and producer didn’t come without some grunt work. Fogelman cut his teeth in Hollywood, at age 20, compiling research reports on guests as a production assistant on “The Howie Mandel Show” in the late ’90s and later wrote TV show blurbs for the TV Guide Network — finding time to write scripts in his off hours.

Fogelman eventually gained notice by developing stories that tend to zero in on the subtleties of relationships, gently navigating the line between comedy and drama. And sometimes he does so with an unexpected plot twist.

“He intuits things just amazingly,” Singer said by phone. “He has what we call, ‘the Golden Gut.’ He sees the big picture immediately. He understands what makes things special in a story.”

Both pilots come with their own surprise twists that take the stories in unexpected directions that producers hope will generate buzz. And in an era of TV overload, fast-forwarding DVRs and attention-pulling social media feeds, any device that will attract eyeballs helps.

“The marketplace is so crowded right now, and it’s so hard to launch a show,” said Gary Newman, Fox TV Group co-chairman, who oversees both the network and the studio alongside Dana Walden. “So when you’re able to offer viewers — in addition to characters they can fall in love with — a surprising twist, it just heightens the experience. It helps really hook viewers.”

Ask Fogelman, and the twists aren’t just dropped in for shock. They always have to serve the story, which is not always easy.

“I was just having trouble this weekend having to write a story,” he said. “I could get the middle of it. I couldn’t get the top and I couldn’t get the end. I sometimes have an easy time with it the beginning and end, because I already know what it is.You have to find the way to get people in and you have to find a way to keep them wanting to come back.”

It all has him thinking about what the next generation of Hollywood talent is facing now.

“If I were a young person breaking into the business right now, I’d be thinking probably about way too many things,” Fogelman said. “Like how to cut through the clutter. It’s crazy.”

It’s a challenge that is not lost on him as he prepares for the new season to get underway. But he’s confident that he’s offering audiences unique shows with “This Is Us” and “Pitch.”

“For me, I feel they’re close to the best television I’m capable of doing,” he said. “I rest very easily saying, ‘I’m very proud of them with no apologies. And I hope people like them.’”


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