Catholics protest new ABC series, ‘The Real O’Neals’

ABC’s “The Real O’Neals” stars Noah Galvin as 16-year-old Kenny, who is afraid to come out of the closet.
ABC’s “The Real O’Neals” stars Noah Galvin as 16-year-old Kenny, who is afraid to come out of the closet. ABC

ABC’s first attempt to promote its new family comedy, “The Real O’Neals,” resulted in a flurry of protests from the Catholic community. Pitched as “your typical Irish Catholic family,” the original commercial showed the parents getting a divorce, a larcenous daughter, a money hungry priest and a gay son.

The “typical’ family that was the inspiration for the show belongs to activist and writer Dan Savage, an executive producer of the series. He was already on the radar of many groups because he has publicly attacked Catholicism and Christianity over the years.

Savage didn’t attend the session for the new series at the Television Critics Association meetings, but executive producer Casey Johnson stressed that no matter what has been said, the show is really faith affirming.

“So we just felt like people need to see the show, and they need to see what it’s about. And I think all of that criticism was coming before anyone had actually seen the show,” Johnson says.

David Windsor, another executive producer, stresses that the show is full of love, warmth and comedy. At the heart of the show is a family that loves each other, and faith plays an important part of their lives.

Martha Plimpton and Jay Ferguson play the parents whose marriage has fallen so apart they are talking divorce. Noah Galvin portrays their gay son who is so worried about how his mother will react that he’s afraid to come out. Their other son (Matt Shively) has an eating disorder, while their daughter (Bebe Wood) is stealing from charities.

“The Real O’Neals” follows the game plan ABC has been using these last few years with its comedies. They all have a very particular spin, such as how “Fresh Off the Boat” looks at how an Asian-American family adjusts to life in America; “The Goldbergs” takes a look at family life in the ’80s; and “black-ish” deals with an affluent black family trying to retain some of their heritage.

Paul Lee, who was president of ABC Entertainment Group when “The Real O’Neals” was ordered into production, likes how well it fits in with the other family shows on the network. And this isn’t the first time a show on his network has been protested.

“We had some controversial subjects when we went into ‘black-ish.’ There are a number of shows that we’ve gone into that we think could have been buzz-worthy,” Lee says. “I think the quality of the show is the most important indicator, and this show is an extremely high quality show. I back it a hundred percent.”

Lee was replaced by Channing Dungey, who previously was in charge of ABC’s dramas, before the first episode of “The Real O’Neals” could air.

With or without the support of the man who ordered the show, “The Real O’Neals” moves ahead. Along with Savage’s writings, the team behind “The Real O’Neals” will have several other sources for humor. Johnson went to a Jesuit high school, so she calls herself “a wannabe Catholic.” Windsor explains that the writing staff includes Catholics, gays and people from Chicago (where the series is set).

The Midwestern writers may be the most important as the producers are trying to give the show a Middle America way of thinking, especially when it comes to homosexuality.

“A lot of the middle of the country is still going through this very significant change right now, and the church is a big part of that. And it’s all going in a very positive direction, and we are glad that we are able to be a part of that,” Windsor says. “If there’s anyone that’s in Arkansas that watches this show, a kid who maybe isn’t out to his family and he can watch this show with his parents and they can laugh about it and share some experience and it can help him come out, that’s definitely one of the major reasons that Casey and I did this.

“Things are changing. Gay marriage is now legal in this entire country. It’s changing around the world. And, you know, one day it won’t be part of the conversation at all, which will be fantastic.”

Until then, those making shows such as “The Real O’Neals” will continue to try to redefine a“typical’ family.

Rick Bentley: 559-441-6355, @RickBentley1

The Real O’Neals

  • 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 2, KFSN (Channel 30)