Known for its excellent balance of drama and comedy, One Day at a Time (ODAAT) quickly gained a fan base when it launched on Netflix in 2017. The show focuses on a Cuban-American family spanning three generations and their various experiences both at home and in the world around them. When it was cancelled in March 2019, fans immediately launched several #SaveODAAT campaigns on social media, and it was the first topic of discussion at Austin Television Festival’s One Day at a Time panel. The panel was moderated by Melissa Fumero, who guest starred on the show with Brooklyn Nine-Nine co-star Stephanie Beatriz. It included creator and executive producer Mike Royce, executive producer Brent Miller, and cast members Justina Machado (Penelope Alvarez), Todd Grinnell (Schneider), and Stephen Tobolowsky (Dr. Leslie Berkowitz).
Mike Royce kicked off the panel by answering possibly the most pressing question, is there any chance One Day at a Time could be saved? In short, the answer seems to be maybe. “There’s not not hope. I’ve been through three ‘save our show’ campaigns, this is beyond miracle status. People are interested and we are talking; we hope to have some news sooner rather than later.”
Fumero asked about the creation of the show, and Miller explained that it was a lot like fitting a puzzle together. They began with Royce and Gloria Kellet and built it from there, casting roles as they progressed, but knowing almost immediately that Rita Moreno needed to play Lydia.
The storyline around Elena’s aversion to a traditional quinceanera was based on Moreno’s real life story as a teen, according to Royce. He also mentioned that certain roles, such as Schneider, were much harder to cast than others. Grinnell reflected on his having auditioned five times for Schneider, and it took months before he was finally given the role. Miller agreed it was one of the toughest to cast, but they needed the right person and found that in Grinnell.
Machado added that she didn’t know the show was a multi-cam (a filming method involving multiple cameras, often seen on sitcoms) until she was already cast. She then realized that it was going to be in front of an audience and found that intimidating in the beginning. It was challenging, but very rewarding according to Machado, “sometimes we bombed and nobody laughed at us. After we would be thinking ‘oh my god we have to go back out there.’” But as they progressed she began to think of the actors and audience as one unit, there to make the best show they can. Fumero agreed that it’s a delicate dance between the actors and the audience that lives somewhere between theater and television. Machado also shared that she and Moreno had worked together on three previous projects, but Moreno didn’t remember any of them (much to Machado’s amusement).
Tobolowsky opened up about his favorite moment from the show, which is actually something that happened behind the scenes. He and co-star Rita Moreno were waiting to film during Lydia’s ‘bouquet list’ scenes. Moreno started singing a song right into Tobolowsky’s ear. He said it was absolutely beautiful and a moment he will never forget.
Grinnell spoke briefly about directing episode eight of season three, “She Drives Me Crazy”, and shared that he was a little terrified to tell or ask his fellow coworkers to do things. However, once he got used to it he was happy with the way the episode came together.
ODAAT doesn’t shy away from difficult topics including LGBTQ issues, mental health, addiction and focuses on a Latinx family. Royce spoke to the delicate line ODAAT walks to treat these issues with the respect they deserve while also telling jokes in the dramedy, “It’s almost a relief. When something hard is happening to you, laughter is all you have. We always go somewhere emotional in each episode, and it makes the jokes mean something.” Everyone felt it important to find humor in the humanity.
Speaking to the issue of difficult topics, Grinnell was invited into the writer’s room in season three to discuss Schneider’s relapse with alcohol. “I was very lucky this season. The idea to have Schneider relapse adds so much depth to him. Usually these characters are there to come in, make a joke, and then leave,” said Grinnell, who has dealt with addiction in his own life. He spoke to the writer’s room about his struggles to help them make Schneider’s relapse story as authentic as possible.
In bringing ODAAT to life, there was also the issue of respecting the 1975 sitcom. Miller discussed their desire to both pay homage to the original ODAAT while also making this its own unique show. There are no musical transitions because, according to Miller, they don’t feel they need the ‘bells and whistles’ common on today’s TV. The overall style of this ODAAT has kept the show in what he called the ‘Norman Lear’ style.
The panel was engaging and informative, but the biggest takeaway was the sense of gratitude the cast seems to have for their fanbase. ODAAT may be on a temporary pause, but fans everywhere are hoping we haven’t seen the last of the Alvarez family.