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June 22, 2016

A Man in Fuller

His Fox series didn’t survive, but his Netflix series, Fuller House, did. Even better, John Stamos is working on "the best version of me."

Liane Bonin Starr
  • David Johnson
  • Fuller House

    Robert Trachtenberg/Netflix
  • Michael Yarish/Netflix
  • Grandfathered

    Erica Parise/Fox

John Stamos might be expected to take a breather.

After completing a season of Grandfathered — the Fox sitcom he both starred in and executive-produced — and guiding the long-gestating Fuller House into being on Netflix, he didn’t sit still. Instead, he hit the road to play drums with the Beach Boys — something he's done off and on since 1985.

Caught on tour, Stamos talked with emmy contributor Liane Bonin Starr about his rebooted career, the challenges of reimagining a TV show that went off the air in the '90s, and why, after a stint in rehab following a 201S DUI and the death of his mother, Loretta, in 2014, he's feeling fine — even if he, unlike the rest of America, thinks he's looking his age.

Following that conversation, Fox announced it would not be picking up Grandfathered for a second season — it was one of 17 shows canceled by the broadcast networks over two days in May.

Stamos tweeted his response: "Proud of @Grandfathered. A show that makes u feel good & brings the entire family together. The kind of TV I love & will continue to create.... And now, let us take a moment of silence for Network Television."

With his streaming series, there's no need for silence. In February, Netflix released an initial 13 episodes of the sequel to Full House, which thrived on ABC from 1987 to 1995 (Bob Saget starred as a widower with three daughters and Stamos as Uncle Jesse). The digital network has since renewed it for a second season, and production is under way.

How are you squeezing in tour dates with the Beach Boys while producing television?

I don't know how I'm doing it. I should have thought about resting, but I decided there's always something. I've been blessed with a versatile career where I can do TV and do theater and play music. I've been really craving to get out, to work this different muscle rather than the one you use being on a set all day, So l just jumped on this.

You tried to find a home for a reboot of Full House since you left ER in 2009. Why do you think it took so long?

The truth is, for many, many, many, many years I didn't want to be anywhere near it. I really wanted it to go away, because as much as we all talked about how much we loved it... there was a good amount of time where I was frustrated. That doesn't affect the way I feel about it now or the way the world feels about it, but it was frustrating.

And after doing some theater and ER, I started thinking of getting back into producing, and what do I have in my stable?

That would be a take on Full House.

Fuller House. I think part of my ER deal was that I had the rights to make it as a movie, the first-look rights or whatever, and I first tried to do it as a feature film, with [series creator] Jeff Franklin. I wanted to make something like what they did with The Brady Bunch — recast everybody and do a nice movie like that.

That went around for a while with Warner Bros., and we couldn't get it going. Then Jeff wrote up a treatment, and I took it out. At the time, we couldn't make a deal.

Yet it kept going....

So, we went back to Warner Bros, a year ago with a package that had more energy to it, you know, with the girls. We took them around, and Bob Saget was involved, and [Warner Bros. Television president] Peter Roth was really on board this time. It was a full-fledged thing.

But it was right at the end of the 10-90 deals [in which a syndicator sells a 10-episode run of a show and, if it earns acceptable ratings, a 90-episode deal is struck, allowing for a profitable life in reruns], and that's what we were going for. I really believe that was the issue — it wasn't that we didn't want to do Fuller House.

Then it felt like it was really dead, and I was going through some personal issues with my mother's health. But all of a sudden Netflix came up, and I was like, "Oh, they're never going to do this." But they were our knight in shining armor.

Do you think viewers appreciated the winking acknowledgment in the show that said we've all been here before?

I like that aspect of it. I fought for that. It was my idea to look in the camera for the Mary-Kate and Ashley [Olsen] joke, and in another episode, I comment on the strings, the music and the hugging.

That's the way I wanted to do the show. I wanted to take a few winks here and there. We asked one of the writers or a writers' assistant to give us old, little nuggets that we could put in, not the obvious catchphrases, but little nuggets.

Some said there were many other versions of the Olsen twins joke....

I have to be honest with you — I felt like, "Gosh, does this look like we're, as these kids say, throwing shade on the Olsen twins now with this joke?" And we tried another one, but then we went back to looking into the camera, because we all felt that it was the funniest one. I didn't think it was shady, but...

It would be a surprise for the Olsens to do any TV show at this point — kind of like Anna Wintour doing Full House.

You know, Lori [Loughlin, who plays Becky] told me that. Naturally, I was frustrated and I was hurt. And Lori said, "Look, they just won the CFDA Award [for their high-fashion women's clothing label, The Row] for the second year in a row. That would be like someone winning an Oscar."

I still have mixed feelings about that but... with the show, we made some mistakes and we've been talking about stuff we want to do next year. It was really difficult to take something so important to so many people and try to figure out the best way to redo it — how much nostalgia and how much new stuff.

It was a big, complicated job, and we didn't get it perfect, but we're going to make it better next time.

To get back to Grandfathered, any sitcom has a discovery period when it finds its rhythm and tone....

With TV, magic has to happen. It happened on Full House. We were around at the right time; we were one of the first single-family-home situations. And over the years, that's become more and more prevalent, with divorce and same-sex marriage. It's a little bit like Grandfathered.

I wanted the show to have an emotional feel to it and still be a smart comedy. The beginning mixture for me was putting these two guys together — Dan Chun [creator-executive producer of Grandfathered], who comes from The Office and The Simpsons, and Dan Fogelman [also an executive producer], who comes from Crazy, Stupid, Love and Cars and Galavant.

You could go back to the first season of any show and see it trying to find itself. We didn't know if it was going to be a father-son show, a relationship show, a dating show or a baby show. You wait for something to stick and work. And the one thing that you can't do is cast chemistry. You have to just be lucky.

How critical is it for everyone to get along off screen, too?

I've been doing this 30 years now, and it just has to be a great place to go to work. I have a no-asshole policy, and Dan Fogelman had the same thing.

We went through the process with even the crew, but certainly the cast: we would find someone that we liked in casting and then everybody would go home and make calls to find out if this person was easy to work with. I'm spending 14 hours a day on set sometimes, so you've really got to be around nice people.

You've done so much in your career, but do you feel pressured to either play against Uncle Jesse of Full House — or to stay in that wheelhouse?

Not on this show. This show wasn't really going to be about me and a baby. Dan Chun pitched it to me as a father-son show, kind of a reversal of what I did in You Again? [on NBC, 1986-87], where Jack [Klugman] played my dad and I was the kid.

It was about a bachelor or George Clooney type who finds out he has a nerdy son. It was really set to be sort of a Martin-and-Lewis thing. In fact, the original names were Jimmy Martino and Gerald Lewis. I wanted to call the show "Martino and Lewis."

Danny thought I wouldn't want to do it when he said, "What if you're a grandfather and there's a baby?" But I was like, "Yeah."

Look, it's so hard to get onto television now. I love being on TV, and I love going to work every day. So if it takes me playing around with a baby and having some of those cute moments that I did on Full House, fine with me. I enjoyed doing it anyway.

Usually the hardest thing for me is that kind of bullshit like, "Oh, he's too handsome. How do we make him more relatable?" I remember doing Jake in Progress [on ABC, 2005-06] and you get these notes, "How do we mess him up?" So they gave me sweaty palms and shit like that...

As you said, you've been doing this for 30 years. What's the key to your longevity?

I'm not patting myself on the back, but maybe why I've been around for so long is just relationships. That can't change. It's all about micro-transactions with people, and I think before I knew exactly what that was about, I was doing it — because I was raised properly. And my dad always said, "Treat the guy pulling the cable the same way you treat the producer."

And being able to convey genuine warmth and connection, which is probably something we crave even more in entertainment than we did 10, 15, 20 years ago.

By putting all our shit down and going to work and looking at each other and talking to each other and caring about each other, yeah. We do crave it more. Decency is at an all-time low, and discord is at an all-time high. We're all just looking for that connection.

You really don't look your age. We don't think of 50 as looking like John Stamos.

I never know what to say to that, because I feel like I look older. Look at pictures of me on Full House, and now I look older. I'm going to get old, that's the thing. One day I'm going to just look old and you'll say, Okay, yeah, he's old.

But a lot of people probably didn't realize how young you were on Full House — just 24 when it began.

It shocks me, because I'll be sitting around with these young kids now — I have an assistant who's 20 — and I'm telling war stories to them. I found a picture of me with Gene Kelly and Ray Bolger the other day. I caught just the end of that old, great Hollywood. I met Sinatra, and I worked with Sammy Davis Jr. and all that. So when I tell those stories I'm like — Oh, geez, I am old. But I love it. I still feel very youthful.

You had a hard year before this, but you've come out the other side. Was that scene in Grandfathered in which you pay tribute to your on-screen father personal in any respect?

I was going down a road where I wasn't being the son that my parents raised. My parents were always proud of me, but I think they'd be most proud now.

It's about mortality. That's the downfall of supposedly looking young or being young, because it's not so cute anymore in your 40s, 50s to be running around and not taking care of yourself as well as you could — or being as responsible or as disciplined as I was raised to be. So yeah, I'm putting all that together and trying to be the best version of me that I can be.

It seems like a pretty good version.

I feel good. I feel clear. I feel happy. Genuinely — and it all accrues, you know. You go to work and you're a certain way, and then people see that and then they act that way. I think this is going to be a very fruitful time in my life.

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