Fox's new series Ben and Kate is a different kind of family comedy, one that marries the best qualities of an ensemble like Friends — in which physical comedy and character growth reigned supreme — with the child-rearing hilarity of Raising Hope. Fortunately, series creator Dana Fox had quite the inspiration for the lead character: her older brother Ben.
"He was a Ferris Bueller-type guy," Fox told reporters at the network's Television Critics Association fall TV previews Monday. "Growing up he got into so much trouble... You would never think he could've kept two children alive, much less keeping them happy and well-adjusted."
The Kate of the show's title is a single mom whose unpredictable but lovable brother Ben (Nat Faxon) moves in to help take care of her daughter. Dakota Johnson, incidentally the daughter of Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith, plays Kate.
Despite her brother's former larger-than-life personality — he's since got his life together, she noted — Fox said they're striving not to make Ben Fox the character too much of an idiot. "We're really careful to make sure he never crosses the line," Fox says. "It's been about keeping him grounded and asking ourselves, 'What would a real human being do?'"
"Now that they're together, in a way, Ben has become a new parent," Fox said of Ben and Kate's trajectory during the first season. "He's going from being the fun uncle to being the dad and he has to learn to follow through a little more... She is being forced by her brother to break out from... staying in this little box where everything was safer."
While the relationship between brother and sister — and by extension, their friends BJ (Lucy Punch) and Tommy (Echo Kellum) — will take center stage, the real scene-stealer will be Maggie Elizabeth Jones, the 8-year-old actress who portrays Kate's daughter Maddie. "You give in and realize you're not as adorable," Faxon said of working with Jones. Added Fox: "She's a smart bomb of cuteness that explodes in your face."
The real Ben Fox may have gotten his life together, but Dana Fox regaled the critics Monday with recent stories of how her brother snuck into the network's upfronts in April just to celebrate his new show. "He's so happy that the world finally revolves around him," Fox joked. Clearly, it seems she'll have plenty of inspiration for some time to come.
Ben and Kate premieres Tuesday, Sept. 25 at 8:30/7:30c on Fox.