The sitcoms that reflect our world are the ones that become instant classics.
The new NBC series Crowded finds married couple Mike (Patrick Warburton) and Martina (Carrie Preston) quickly going from an empty nest to a packed house when their two daughters and Mike’s parents suddenly move in.
Created by Suzanne Martin and featuring episodes directed by the legendary James Burrows, Crowded is loaded with a powerful cast, including Stacy Keach as Warburton’s father, Miranda Cosgrove and Mia Serafino as Mike and Martina’s daughters, and Carlease Burke as Mike’s stepmother.
Well known for his distinguishable strong baritone, playing “David Puddy” on Seinfeld, voicing “Brock Samson” on The Venture Bros., and portraying the title character in The Tick, Warburton was initially reluctant to return a network series after starring in the long-running Rules of Engagement, which ran for six successful seasons.
“[The producers of Crowded] were generous in areas in opening the door for me to do the things that I wanted to do. They made it very, very easy for me. That being said, if I didn’t see a fantastic premise and a pilot with a great team, I wouldn’t have done it.
I thought this was a great opportunity to be as close as I’ve ever been to being the center of a spoked wheel, with [my character] being able to have a relationship with his daughter, a relationship with his wife, and one with his father.
[One thing] relatable to me is the father/ son relationship. Stacy Keach is amazing to work with. That’s fun dynamic there where we get to butt heads a little bit.”
Crowded speaks not only to the contemporary structure of families, it also strongly resembles Warburton’s home life.
At one time, Warburton and his wife had their four children, a pair of in-laws, and four dogs, all under the same roof.
“I actually proposed the idea [of my in-laws moving in],” said Warburton. “My father-in-law was not doing well, and nobody wanted him in a care facility. My wife was really the primary caregiver for my father-in-law during his last year. She’s a good lady for doing that. The least I could do was open my home for them.”
Some of Warburton’s home experiences have made their way into the series. His Pearl Jam fandom, a man-cave, his love of flying, and being a real-life father are all facets that that found their way into Warburton’s character of Mike.
“I love integrating real life into [the show]. It’s fun when it’s a continuum of art imitating life and life imitating art, and you don’t know where one begins and one ends.
"You think about your own attitudes and humor in dealing with certain situations, and how you’re going to navigate something. It can become very similar to the person you are. But at the same time, I have to say that me in my life is not written as well as me on a show with eight great show writers. That’s what makes it a joy.”
“I’ve always been a part of things where there’s more sequestering being done,” said Warburton. “I love the idea of a true integration into this family. That’s something I know a little something about.”
For Carrie Preston, the idea of a multi-generational household was not a thing to which she was accustomed.
“[My] generation didn’t really look upon going back to home to your parents as something that was an acceptable thing to do. There was a stigma to it. Nowadays, for people in their 20s, there isn’t a stigma. The economy and the way people were raised is different. I think we’re in an interesting time in the way families are continuing to stay together even as the children become adults.”
Preston’s most recent television work includes hour-long dramas, including True Blood and her Emmy-winning role in The Good Wife, but her initial television work began on sitcoms. Preston was drawn to Martina and how she factors into Crowded’s family dynamics.
“The interesting thing about the character is she’s full of contradictions. She’s a therapist, but she’s a bit nutty herself. She’s very much wanting to be with her daughters and treat them like friends, but she wants them to fly the coop, become adults, and create their own lives. We see her struggling with a lot of that as the season goes on.
“[Martina tries] maintaining a good, healthy relationship with her husband. The thing I love about the show is it really maintains a wonderful, warm, and positive portrait in of a marriage. The conflict in the story, a lot of times, doesn’t come from the husband-wife relationship, which is something you see a lot on TV.”
The Crowded crew recently celebrated the series’ executive producer James Burrow’s 1,000th episode of television. The TV legend is responsible for directing and producing some of the greatest sitcoms in television history, including Cheers, Friends, Taxi, The Bob Newhart Show and Will and Grace. Working with the Emmy award-winning director-producer assured Warburton the series was in good hands.
“He’s just got a great eye and insight,” said Warburton. “He has a great talent and at the same time, listens to others and appreciates an actor’s input, too. That’s what I find remarkable about him.
"He’s a talented TV legend who’s a pleasure to work with and I hope we get to work with him next season - I hope that we have a next season. I believe that this show has a bright future. But whatever happens, I’ll always be thankful for the opportunity of working with Jimmy.”
Preston believed Burrows’ involvement was not only a sign their show has longevity, it also marked a dream come true.
“When I first started coming out to Los Angeles and doing guest stars and pilots for TV shows, I was going to see friends do tapings of their sitcoms. One of my best friends, Malcolm Gets, was a lead in a show Jimmy directed, Caroline in the City. I remember thinking I would feel like I made it in Hollywood if I did a show directed by Jimmy Burrows.
"It took a while, but here I am, so I feel like a monumental moment for me in my career.”
Crowded’s cachet of television luminaries carries on into its first season’s guest stars, including Betty White, Carol Kane, and David Spade.
“It was really thrilling to have these women who are such incredible actors who have given so much to this genre, watch them work, and see their spirits and attitudes toward the work – which were nothing but positive and game,” said Preston. “And to have Betty White there, who’s pushing 94 years old, come in and just knock it out of the park, has the audience eating out of her hand, making jokes between takes, and cracking all of us up.
"To have that kind of attitude and work ethic at that age is inspiring and something that I hope that I would be able to do for the rest of my life and use her as a shining example of how to continue how to reinvent yourself in this business.”
Warburton and Preston both share a positive hope for the future of Crowded and look forward to possibly contributing to the series in additional ways. “It’d be fun to write [an episode],” said Warburton. “I think it could be just as fun to direct one - especially after watching how Jimmy [Burrows] works.”
Preston has directed movies and web series and would like to add episodic television to her resume. “I would love to do that. I haven’t ventured into directing myself in anything yet. I usually direct other actors and I have a great admiration for people who can wear those hats at the same time.”
The pair also look for character growth, should their series continue. And, given the multi-generational nature of the show, the possibility of adding yet another generation to the household.
“I wouldn’t mind being a young granddad – not even in real life, “said Warburton. “I wouldn’t mind. I wouldn’t give a shit about the title. I’m 50 years old and I’m in better shape now than I was 20 years ago.”
“If the show goes for a long time, I imagine we would cross that threshold [of having grandchildren] and it would make sense,” said Preston. “The girls are getting older and who know what would happen? I would be totally open to that. It’s a sitcom, so sitcoms rely on situations to keep the story going. I think it would be a great storyline.”
Crowded premieres on NBC on March 20.