How This Is Us Validates Characters With Flaws

“This Is Us” Executive Producer Ken Olin sat down with The Creative Coalition CEO Robin Bronk in the latest episode of “On The Edge,” a podcast spotlighting stories of opportunity, discovery, and courage. In the newest episode, Olin shares how and why “This Is Us” tackles important social issues, including the obesity epidemic. “On The Edge” is a capsule podcast series that is part of the “At Home With The Creative Coalition” podcast.

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Highlights from “On The Edge” featuring Ken Olin –

On how “This Is Us” and the arts can help change the way people think about obesity even if they don’t intend to:
“Maybe in that way the show has been very positive, in that it is a topic that has been put into the zeitgeist because of this character. And again, this is why I believe, certainly, the popular arts are so influential, television and film, because it puts these things into the living rooms of a massive number of people. 15, 20 million people, you go, ‘Oh, that’s an obese character…’ Now you begin to, let’s say, even open up the subject matter. I don’t know how long this has been something that has really been, it sounds like, ‘Mental illness was one, let’s approach obesity. And let’s really open up the subject.’ It would seem to me that during the genesis of this, that would be the approach that one would want to take. If you were going to do a character who has obesity, and you wanted to go, ‘Look at this,’ is the approach we’re going to take. It’s not going to be the ‘familial unconditional love approach’ as a way of being positive and asserting that these characters shouldn’t live in the shadows or be so ashamed. But let’s take the next thing, which is, you know, like, ‘addiction, or like mental illness, depression, these are subject matters that need to come out of the Stone Age and really be looked at as medical conditions, as diseases.’ I would think that’s the next approach. I don’t know that six years ago, or seven years ago, when Dan [Fogelman] was writing this, and it had a lot to do with his own families. He was taking the approach, ‘You know what, we got to begin to talk about this as a disease.’ Because that would be a fascinating approach, in a different time, to go, ‘Get this person to an endocrinologist.’ Like, you’re going, ‘I have knee problems.’ And the person goes, ‘Well, you’ve got to lose weight. That’s why you have knee problems.’ And it’s like, ‘No, actually, I have a torn meniscus.’ But that’s different. I think our show has a more – in the best sense of the word – a more of a sentimental approach to things.”

On tackling destigmatization through ordinariness:
“When we did ‘Brothers & Sisters,’ probably the thing I was most proud of about that show – The one thing I thought that we really contributed, and was unique, was the relationship between the two gay characters. And I think probably because when Robbie [Baitz] and I created the show, one of the things that was important to him was how to destigmatize it through non-dramatic means. The ordinariness of it. It was just interesting because our characters got married… he normalized it. I remember talking to my mother-in-law’s husband… very conservative guy, and he said, ‘Look, I could do without the guys kissing, but I sure love those scenes in the kitchen with the family.’ And you go ‘Yup, that’s the way.’”

On the stigma of obesity and how “This Is Us” is changing the narrative:
“Yeah, and I think it’s very, it’s tricky, I think, because… I think part of it has been that it is yet to be really recognized and accepted as a condition, a disease. And that in that way, there’s still that perception, a physical perception, that seems like it’s, ‘Oh, that’s just a numbers thing. You’re fat.’ And, ‘Everybody, everybody loves to eat pie. But you obviously can’t control yourself.’ I mean, that line, but to where you begin to say, ‘No, we are going to put forward a character who up until’ – I don’t know, maybe our show – even though there have been heavy people in shows, certainly Roseanne or whatever. But yeah, they were in that category of sloppy. So it’s identified as a sort of a socioeconomic thing. Now we’re going, ‘Oh, wow, we’re putting a character on TV who is obviously obese.’ I mean, she would certainly say that, and we want to say, ‘This person is okay, that this person is lovable. This person is attractive.’ All of those tropes that are associated with television stars, television characters… This is one of your, you know, central leads in your show, who is probably as heavy as any leading character on television has been for a long time. And yet, this is a person worthy of love and loving herself. Then it’s that question, which is… what’s the next step, really?”

Listen to additional episodes of “On The Edge” right now:
Episode 1 featuring Emmy Award-nominated actor Kelly Jenrette
Episode 2 featuring actor Shanola Hampton
Episode 3 featuring Emmy Award-nominated actor Yvette Nicole Brown
Episode 4 featuring Executive Producer Gloria Calderón Kellett
Episode 5 featuring SAG Award-winning actor Dean Norris
Episode 6 featuring Emmy Award-nominated “Grey’s Anatomy” actor Chandra Wilson


More about The Creative Coalition
The Creative Coalition is the premier nonprofit, nonpartisan 501(c)(3) social and public advocacy organization of the arts and entertainment community. Founded in 1989 by prominent members of the creative community, The Creative Coalition is dedicated to educating, mobilizing, and activating its members on issues of public importance. Actor Tim Daly serves as the organization’s President. The Creative Coalition also creates award-winning public service campaigns including #RightToBearArts to promote the efficacy of the arts. For more information, visit On The Edge is graciously supported by Novo Nordisk Inc.