Meet The Neighbors: Dan Fogelman

The creator of this new ABC comedy shares its origins plus his time working on Cars and fandom for the X-Men!

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Photos courtesy of ABC

By Blake Garris

“The Neighbors” is an upcoming comedy series premiering Wednesday, September 26 on ABC at 9:30/8:30c after “Modern Family" and then moving to its regular timeslot at 8:30/7:30c on October 3 after “The Middle.” We recently spoke with creator and Executive Producer Dan Fogelman about how he came up with the idea for the show, his time visiting Disney’s Cars Land and his love for the X-Men.

Marvel.com: To begin, how did you come up with the idea for “The Neighbors?”

Dan Fogelman: A couple years ago I went to visit my mom in New Jersey. She lived in a townhome development back in Manalapan. She’s got an old bedroom of mine kept like a shrine for the one weekend a year when I would come to visit and whatnot. [Laughs] All the townhouses were almost identical, and side by side to the point where you could reach out one bathroom window and almost touch the bathroom window of the adjacent townhouse. She never seemed to know any of her neighbors. I would kind of always watch as they would shovel their snow and take out their trashcans all almost synchronized and none of them ever seemed to interact or engage in any kind of way. I started thinking, “What if they were all aliens” and it became the kernel of the idea that led to the series. “What if my sweet mom was living amidst all these strange aliens?”

Marvel.com: I love how you have these jokes that throw me for a loop every time, like the one with the human eyeballs.

Dan Fogelman (photo by Peter Stone)

Dan Fogelman: [Laughs] Well, we have fun with it. There’s the hint of weirdness and almost danger, and the kind of sweet, non-threatening way about the aliens that makes you wonder what the hell they’re really doing here?
Marvel.com: You obviously have a fantastic career as a writer of films. What made you want to be the creator of a television series?

Dan Fogelman: I was making too much money and having too much free time so I decided to destroy myself. [Laughs] I’ve always loved TV. I was a child of television. Our family bonding was often sitting down and watching whether it be “The Cosby Show,” or “Family Ties,” or the [other] shows I grew up on. I always wanted to do a family sitcom that an entire family could sit down with—one guys like me and my friends could sit down with and get something from, but also that kids might like and parents might like and everybody can get something different out of it. That’s always been sort of a holy grail for me, and so it was always something I wanted to attack at some point.

Marvel.com: So, your schedule’s pretty tight these days?

Dan Fogelman: Yeah, they’ve got me going pretty fast. It’s a big job. It’s like running a mini corporation, getting a TV show off the ground. Luckily I’ve got a lot of good people that I can rely on, but it’s a lot of work.

Marvel.com: Let’s talk about “Cars,” which you wrote…

On the set of The Neighbors (photo by Peter Stone)

Dan Fogelman: I just got back from the opening of Cars Land out at Disneyland. It’s pretty amazing. I was with John Lasseter, who made Pixar and directed the films. He’s kind of like the Walt Disney nowadays of the world. [Laughs] The whole film was him, and his idea and inspiration. I was just lucky to be a young guy who got hired to come help write some stuff for him on it. And then you go down there and you walk down with the guy into this whole amusement park. It’s literally like stepping inside the animated film. It’s one of the most impressive things you’ve ever seen, and I’m not one to usually get blown away or speak that way. It really is something, the amount of detail and care they put into it. You spend enough time working on the film and it all came from inside John’s brain and then suddenly you’re stepping inside a real-world version of an animated film. For people that have children, I’ve watched little kids go, and John’s line that he always said was that he heard a little kid ask his parents “Is this where they filmed the movie?” From a little kid’s perspective that’s kind of what it feels like.

Marvel.com: Going back to “The Neighbors,” you packed a lot into 23 minutes.

Dan Fogelman: [Laughs] Yeah, we did. We got some really good stuff. This show’s got a lot of heart and a lot of good storylines coming up in the first season. We’re already six or seven episodes into filming right now. I’m really happy with it. You’ve got a lot to accomplish in a pilot because you’ve got to establish a pretty complicated premise. In this series we have all these fun relationships even about our teens, like a budding romance between our alien teen boy and our teen human girl. We have a lot of stuff that’s really soon to come, and it’s really fun and sweet and funny and weird, and I think people are really going to dig it.

Simon Templeman, Toks Olagundoye, Dan Fogelman, Jami Gertz and Lenny Venito (photo by Peter Stone)

Marvel.com: What would you say to people who would read the synopsis and go “I don’t know about that”?

Dan Fogelman: People seem to have a kind of visceral reaction to aliens when it’s involved in a TV show as opposed to in a film. It’s a pretty standard part of our film narrative, aliens and science fiction, but in television and comedy especially I think people might on conceit have a reaction to it. I just keep saying, “Watch the show.” I think once people give it a chance they’re really going to see the heart and the accessibility of the show. It’s kind of old-fashioned in a lot of ways, a family sitcom with a lot of new-fashioned contemporary humor. I think people really like landing into it. At the end of the day it’s still a family sitcom. It fits nicely on ABC on Wednesday nights, and they wouldn’t be putting it there if it didn’t. That’s what I keep telling people: “Just tune in to the family sitcom and laugh at some of the fun alien stuff.”

Marvel.com: What else can people expect?

Dan Fogelman: What happens when the little kids start getting picked on by a bully at school and [one] stands up to the bully by turning into an alien in the middle of an elementary school, when the teachers and all the kids are melting down? [Laughs] Also they go to the mall for the first time, the aliens, and it’s an opportunity for us to turn a lens on American consumerism [Laughs], and watch as these aliens take in one of our shopping malls in complete horror. Then they’re going to start exploring holidays. We’re actually shooting right now our Halloween episode, which is a really fun episode because every year on October 31 for the last 10 years the aliens have watched little miniature people in costumes gather at their gates banging on the gate, and they think they’re being invaded. [Laughs] And they start the episode by saying “This year we fight back.” [The humans] have to explain to them that they’re not being invaded, its just kids coming and trick-or-treating for candy. We’re going to be able to explore, in the first season, all the holidays. The way it is premiering in the fall [we] get to do Halloween and Christmas and Thanksgiving, which is a really fun territory for an alien for our show. We’ve got a lot of really fun stuff coming up.

Wolverine

Marvel.com: Who are your favorite Marvel characters?

Dan Fogelman: I’m a big X-Men guy. I love X-Men. I’ve always especially loved the X-Men movies. I watch all of them. I’m a huge Wolverine guy, actually. I like him. That’s my guy. I like that he’s just raw anger and power; and chest hair.
I always loved the first [X-Men movie]. I love the dynamic between Patrick Stewart and [Ian] McKellen. I remember seeing that movie for the first time. I have a couple in the last 10 or 15 years where I felt like you could really watch a packed number one opening movie in a theater, and feel that the audience was rolling with the film. I remember feeling that with the first one. It was one of my 10 experiences in a movie theater over the last 10 years that I really remember very vividly, like what movie theater I was sitting in, and how the audience was rocking. I remember leaving and going “That was great.” That was when I really got hooked, and I retroactively got into it.

“The Neighbors” premieres Wednesday, September 26 on ABC at 9:30/8:30c after “Modern Family" and then moves to its regular timeslot at 8:30/7:30c on October 3 after “The Middle.”

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