'Connecting...' Producers on Creating a 'Safe Space' to Process the Pandemic (Exclusive)

By
This video is unavailable because we were unable to load a message from our sponsors.

If you are using ad-blocking software, please disable it and reload the page.

NBC's lone new scripted series this fall, Connecting...is a comedy meant to capture our current times. Filmed remotely and entirely on iPhones, the half-hour series begins 10 days after lockdown and ends around Election Day, as six friends meet up virtually amid the ups and downs the pandemic has wrought on their personal lives, finances and careers. Inspired by a real-life friend group co-creators Martin Gero and Brendan Gall belong to, Connecting... aims to be a release valve during a destabilizing time.

"I think we can all use some more friends right now, regardless of where we are. Everyone is feeling pretty isolated, and I know it's adding screen time but we hope to bring an enormous sense of companionship and joy. And catharsis," Gero tells ET, who exclusively debuts a clip from Thursday's series premiere above. "It's just nice to sit. These Zooms are incredibly long and they're just our actors talking and because it's Zoom and because they're looking at the camera, it feels very intimate. And so we hope you just come and kick back and enjoy, and have a drink with your friends and hopefully feel better after it, feel less alone."

Connecting... features an inclusive and diverse ensemble cast, led by Otmara Marrero, Preacher Lawson, Parvesh Cheena, Keith Powell, Jill Knox, Shakina Nayfack and Ely Henry, and covers the Black Lives Matter movement, the effect on hospital workers, job loss and more. "We're trying to create a safe space where people can laugh and process things together," Gall tells ET. Ahead of the series premiere, Gero and Gall talk to ET about producing the social distancing comedy, how they balanced the comedic beats with the dramatic and why episodes four and five are worth tuning in for.

ET: You're nearing the end of production on Connecting... How has this experience been for you running a show virtually?

Martin Gero: In some ways it's been a lot harder than we thought. But in a lot of ways it was also... there's something very easy about never having to leave your home. Once got in the technical groove, the ability to be everywhere at the same [was amazing]. For instance, today we were shooting a scene, and between setups, I was able to finish color-correcting the fourth episode and pop into post editorially for another part. So it's just the ability to be four places at once all the time, for a showrunner at least, has been invaluable and will be hard to go back to a more physical-based space after this. But it is a bummer to not occupy physical space with people as a creative person. That's been hard to overcome.

Brendan Gall: It's interesting because it's been the most lonely process, but also the most bonded. Sequestered in my home, with my kid going to school in his bedroom, but also making the show with a hundred other people, most of whom I've never met in person. But we're all in conversation with each other over these Zooms, we're all collaborating together and having to really work together to make things happen. There's a transparency to this process that I'm going to miss. People can't go off and have conversations privately about their particular realm of expertise. We all have to be in the circle together, doing everything as a team. That part's been pretty incredible.

Since you conceived the show during quarantine, how has it evolved? Are there elements you're proud of that stuck since conception?

Gero: I'm incredibly proud of the team that we've put together and how that has informed the show. Obviously the pilot is very much autobiographical about our friend group. But as we hired phenomenal writers with very different lived experiences, the show was able to be able to become so much more than anything Brendan and I could ever do on our own. And tell stories from perspectives that are not us. There were so many things on the show, we went back to the writers' room and just said, "Look, I don't think Brendan and I should be driving the conversation about what these Black Lives Matter episodes should be." We need to take a back seat and just have a conversation and help curate a collection of episodes that felt resonant and true to our room. That's been an incredible experience at a time when I think everyone has been craving connection, but they've also been craving a deeper understanding of each other. It's been a privilege to have these incredible conversations with our writers' room and then our actors and our crew, as everyone has brought so much of their personal experiences into the show. It really has become this incredible collective.

The show tackles really difficult issues and moments in time we've experienced or are dealing with today. For example, the first episode introduces a friend of the group, who works at a hospital, and she's expressing the emotional and mental toll that the pandemic is having on her. How did you know when to lean into the comedy and when to have a more dramatic beat?

Gall: It's an ongoing negotiation creatively and tonally. I don't think that one answer is correct for every situation, so you're constantly finding the answer to where we are in terms of the spectrum of comedy and tragedy or drama. Martin and I have worked together a very long time on a number of things and I would say one very common theme is that comedy and drama have lived very close together in most of the work that we make. That feels right and true to us, that feels more honest than a world that is entirely comedic or entirely dramatic. That's not how I think most of us walk through our lives. Especially in a year that's been as hard as this one, people need to laugh. We need to find joy, when joy does not easily present itself in every situation. We need to seek it out, which isn't to say that we ignore what's going on, but it is a way that we protect ourselves and survive these moments, to move through them and process them. Both of those things can be true and live together and that's what we've been trying to do is, is just sort of thread that through.

Gero: Most of us, just as a defense mechanism, whenever something bad happens, we make a joke about it -- in times of despair -- as a survival method. It was just a question of balance. We have to earn the sad parts and we have to earn the funny parts. If the show was straight up hilarious the whole way through, we would have correctly been vilified for trying to make light of the pandemic. But meanwhile, we don't want to retraumatize everybody as, "Remember when this happened, remember how bad you felt." It's a question of acknowledging the truth of the moment and trying, for the show, to be cathartic more than anything -- hilarious and cathartic. So much of comedy is about seeing yourself in things, that comedy of recognition. And right now we're all going through something together. So I think people are really responding because seeing themselves on screen and that can be very, very powerful.

It kicks off 10 days after lockdown and goes all the way up to Election Day. The third episode ends with the group coming across video of George Floyd. What do you want to say in regards to what we'll see these friends go through this season?

Gero: The show will deal with Black Lives Matter, and several of our characters and several of our writers are Black. That felt like something we needed to talk about, for what that means for the rest of the characters and how they respond. We dabble in all of the conversations that happened after that. I've never been more proud of two episodes of television than episodes four and five. They were the scariest, I think, for all of us. Because we were like, "Uh-oh, we have to do these episodes." And the writers of those episodes, just completely blew them out of the water and the cast just came to play so hard. I can't wait for people to see them. We're going to get into it all. The show tries to replicate or distill the conversations that we've all been having the past several months. But again, trying to find that balance between being really funny and yet, trying to find a soul and a spine to these episodes. It became really clear that we were in such [a unique time]. Most comedy, especially network comedy, is untethered to the specific moment of the now, because they're designed to air forever. There's a lack of specificity about the moment. Where a show like ours, which is so clearly rooted in this specific moment, it was such an incredible gift to talk about real things we're all going through and not have to worry about, "Well, how's this going to play in 10 years when it's rerunning?" It brings a vitality and immediacy to the storytelling that is uncommon.

What do you want viewers to feel when they tune in every week?

Gero: I think we can all use some more friends right now, regardless of where we are. Everyone is feeling pretty isolated, and I know it's adding screen time but we hope to bring an enormous sense of companionship and joy. And catharsis. It's just nice to sit. These Zooms are incredibly long and they're just our actors talking and because it's Zoom and because they're looking at the camera, it feels very intimate. And so we hope you just come and kick back and enjoy, and have a drink with your friends and hopefully feel better after it, feel less alone.

Gall: We're trying to create a safe space where people can laugh and process things together.

Connecting... premieres Thursday, Oct. 8 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.

To stay up to date on breaking TV news, sign up for ET's daily newsletter.

RELATED CONTENT:

Here's Your First Look at NBC's Social Distance Comedy 'Connecting...'

Related Gallery