Jason Katims is known for making people cry. Now, he wants to make people laugh.
The executive producer behind TV cryfests Friday Night Lights and Parenthood is once again pulling from the big screen for his latest series, the half-hour comedy About a Boy, premiering Saturday after the Olympics on NBC.
Based on the 1998 Nick Hornby novel and the 2002 Hugh Grant film of the same name, About a Boy stars David Walton as Will Freeman, a self-absorbed, carefree thirtysomething man child whose life is turned upside down when a charming young boy Marcus (Benjamin Stockham) and his high-strung single mom Fiona (Minnie Driver) move in next door.
"I started as a playwright before I started doing television and a lot of the plays I wrote were comedies, so it's something that I've always felt that I wanted to do," Katims tells TVGuide.com. "I had never done a half-hour and I wanted to find something to do where I thought I could bring humor to it, but also was a show that had heart and had characters that you loved and got invested in."
Despite his general apathy toward children and commitments of any kind, Will soon forges a close bond with Marcus. "They're both boys," Walton says. "Will really is a boy and I think he feels like he can help Marcus grow up and Marcus feels like he can help Will grow up."
After years of playing similarly immature womanizers on shows like 100 Questions, Bent, and most recently New Girl, it was Will's (well-hidden) softer side that drew Walton to the project. "His heart is more readily available despite the fact that he's kind of trying to blanket it and keep himself away from any kind of meaningful relationships," he says. "He's still a very selfish, horny guy, but I think his love for this little kid, despite the kid kind of ruining his whole deal, is really sweet."
The ability to transition between carelessness and compassion was what made Walton the right choice for the role. "I think that what David is able to bring to this character is this ability to, on one hand, connect with this kid in a profound and deep way, but on the other hand, still embrace his life of being this sort of single cad, and those two things don't feel they're at odds," Katims says. "He has this charm so you never get mad at him, and that allows us as writers to push what he says and what he does further."
Will will not, however, charm Marcus' protective and neurotic mom, Fiona. "[She] is forced to depend upon this neighbor next door who she has very mixed feelings about as a person and as an influence on her son," Katims says. "And yet there's this push-and-pull with her because she also sees the importance of Will in her son's life."
Fiona, as played by Driver, will loom larger than she did in the book and movie, where Toni Collette took on the role. "I thought it was necessary in doing a television show, where we get invited into these characters' lives, to make her someone that was on her own journey. When you think of the title originally in About a Boy, it's about two boys, Marcus and Will, but I think in this case it's also about Fiona," Katims says, pointing to upcoming story lines about her struggle to find a job, make friends in a new city and date. "Because we have somebody like Minnie, we're able to tell stories not just about her as an obstacle to Will and Marcus' relationship, but we're telling stories about her journey as well."
Will and Marcus will have plenty of other obstacles to worry about, such as the new woman in Will's life, played by Friday Night Lights alum Adrianne Palicki. "You may see Will fall in love and have a girl come along that really nails him," Walton says. "I think that will change his ability certainly to dedicate time to the boy and it will just complicate the family life that is formed."
However, Will's romantic evolution begs the question: Just how quickly will this boy grow into a man, especially without straying too far from the show's premise? "It's a worry and I've talked about this with Jason and the guys," Walton says. "It's this sense that, like anyone, there are moments where you have clarity. Let's say Will admits that Marcus really does mean something to him and it seems out of character. It's a window in and then most people just close it and then they go back to their real behavior."
But Katims promises some progress. "It does have to be done in baby steps. A lot of the fun of doing a half-hour is that it's not as serialized as a show like Parenthood, so while he is growing, we also get to revisit the same theme in different ways," he says. "There's a tremendous distance that this guy has to go before he no longer fits the title of About a Boy."
A special preview of About a Boy airs Saturday after the Olympics at 11:07/10:07c on NBC. The show then moves to its regular timeslot on Tuesdays at 9/8c. Will you watch?