Why This Is Us Is on Broadcast TV, and 5 More Things You Didn’t Know About the Hit Show

The drama’s creator says no one will ever be truly dead on the series

A year after its upfront trailer went viral, the This Is Us cast basked in applause at NBCUniversal's presentation on Monday.
Peter Kramer/NBCUniversal

One of the most-buzzed about moves during the broadcast upfronts this week was NBC’s decision to move This Is Us to Thursdays at 9 p.m., where it will help bring Must-See TV back to the network. But in reality, buyers and audiences haven’t stopped talking about the show since last year’s presentation, when its upfront trailer immediately went viral, and broadcast’s biggest hit in years was born.

Adweek looked at This Is Us—our Show of the Year—in this week’s cover story, where the show’s creator, stars and execs reflected on how it became a breakout success, and what’s next. But not all of the details about the drama and its Season 2 plans made it into the cover story. Here are six more things you should know about the show:

The freshman phenom is Adweek's Show of the Year.

Broadcast or bust

While many TV creators have decided to focus exclusively on cable or streaming outlets, creator Dan Fogelman said he remains devoted to broadcast television. “I’m 41; it’s what I grew up with,” said Fogelman. “There is something that still happens to me, having a show on NBC with the little NBC logo and being able to watch football and the Olympics, and see an advertisement for your show. On a personal level, it still feels like the holy grail to me.”

While making This Is Us for a cable network was “a viable potential option,” Fogelman enjoys the challenge of producing it within the confines of broadcast. “We’re trying to compete with these cable shows and we’re doing it with six commercial [breaks] and we have ads popping up in the corner of the screen during some of our moments. And, we’re not allowed to curse or show more than a quarter inch of Milo [Ventimiglia]’s butt,” he said. “It’s a challenge to write interesting, riveting stuff without cursing and without nudity, that hopefully still plays for adults and can still be messy and then alternately, sweet, touching, emotional and funny.”

Growing old

Mandy Moore didn’t know at first that she would also be playing the 36-years-older, present-day version of Rebecca in addition to the ’80s-era iteration she portrayed in the pilot. Then, a month before Season 1 filming began, Fogelman sent her a email explaining his idea, and asking her to get fitted for prosthetics to see if they could successfully age her onscreen. “He’s like, ‘If everyone isn’t on board 100 percent, then we will cast an actress to play the present day version of this character. But I really want to try and have you do it,’” recalled Moore. “I had no idea that was even a consideration until right before we started shooting. None of this was alluded to in the script when you sign on for something, but obviously I couldn’t be more thrilled for what it ultimately turned out to be.”

Moore must spend three-and-a-half hours in the makeup chair for her old-age prosthetics and makeup, but Ventimiglia, who plays her husband Jack, said it’s easier for him to navigate time period jumps (it also helps that his character is not alive in present-day). “In terms of where Jack is as a man, I just have to take into account where he’s been,” Ventimiglia said. “Fifty-year-old Jack is much different than 20-year-old Jack. They move differently; they sound differently. At their core they are the same man, it’s just having experienced more in a life. So there’s subtle adjustments; 15 degrees to the left or 15 degrees to the right. That, and a little bit of facial hair, and I’m right there in the character.”

William lives—sort of

William, the biological father of Sterling K. Brown’s Randall, died toward the end of Season 1, but the character, played by Ron Cephas Jones, will “absolutely” be back next season, said Fogelman. “While he might not be in every single episode, he’ll have a huge presence in the show. Hopefully always, and certainly next season.”

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