The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with Adam F. Goldberg (‘The Goldbergs’)

If you grew up the ’80s and haven’t watched ABC’s The Goldbergs, then you’re missing out on one of the funniest new comedies of the season…and if you didn’t grow up in the ’80s, you’re still missing out on one of the funniest new comedies of the season, because most of the stories are about growing up and dealing with your family, two things which are absolutely not decade-specific. Tonight’s episode is definitely going to be a treat for those folks in the former category, though, because it’s basically one big homage to The Goonies. I had a chance to chat with the show’s creator, Adam J. Goldberg, who’s basically taken his own life and turned it into a sitcom, and there’s little question that this episode is a career milestone for him. Having now seen it, I’d agree…although I hadn’t seen it when I originally hopped on the phone to talk to him.

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Bullz-Eye: While I got a link to watch the Goonies episode of The Goldbergs, I didn’t get it in time to watch it, due to another deadline I was rushing to meet. But I’m rationalizing that, since the piece is going to be written for people who won’t have seen it either, I’m still on solid ground.

Adam F. Goldberg: [Laughs.] Right, exactly! And it’s technically not even finished, anyway, because I’m still editing it! I’m just so nervous about this one. ABC loved it and wanted to send it out, but I was, like, “I don’t know…” It’s the one that… There’s just a lot of writers on my staff who, like, don’t know the movie. I showed it to them as an adult, and they were just, like, “What is this?” So when they watched it, they were just baffled. So I’m hoping that people who’ve seen the movie will be reviewing it, at least…

BE: When you’re doing a show about the ‘80s, you’ve got the opportunity to pay tribute to basically anything you experienced when you were growing up. Was The Goonies always in the back of your mind as something you wanted to do?

AG: Yes. From the minute I sold the show, and I think even… [Hesitates.] I don’t remember if it was in my original pitch document, because I didn’t want to alienate anybody with something that could potentially be so insane to do. But I’m a collector of the props. You know, I have an original doubloon, and fans have made replicas that I have of the various copper bones and all this stuff. I’ve seen the movie a billion times. I mean, honestly, it’s the movie that… It’s the reason I’m a writer. I know that when Peter Jackson made King Kong, that was his movie as a kid, and this is mine. So if I’m doing a show about the ‘80s, of course I’m going to pay tribute to it. And there’s a character that’s me, and since it was such a big part of my life growing up…

My siblings just tortured me about it being the dumbest movie ever, ‘cause they were teenagers. They didn’t get it, so they always made fun of me for watching it and called the movie stupid to torture me. So that’s how the episode began. And, you know, I even did something on my last show, Breaking In, which was that Goonies 2 was coming out, and they had a mission to protect the movie. So it’s always something. I pitched the musical to Richard Donner. I went in initially to pitch him Goonies 2, which he quickly said he wasn’t that into. [Laughs.] So I flipped over to the musical. So it’s, like, my dream job. I keep revisiting it in different ways. It’s my thing. My jam.

BE: You mentioned that there were a lot of writers on your staff who don’t know Goonies and hadn’t seen it. That’s got to make you feel old.

AG: Oh, for sure. You know, it’s really hard to show the movie to an adult, because there’s something about being in that pocket of being a pre-teen when I saw it, the same age as the characters, and being – I think – one of the best adventure movies ever made. And they don’t make movies like that anymore! What movies have you seen lately where it’s about six kids? The only thing, really, is Super 8…which was trying to be Goonies! They don’t make these movies. Once we got to Sloth in the room, people were, like, “This movie is off the rails!” [Laughs.] They were just, like, “What is happening?”

So a lot of the writers were too old – they were in their late teen years – to have seen it or cared about it, and there were a lot of writers who were too young, and then there was a group of us in the room who swore that it’s the greatest movie together. So we’ve got all three groups! And the younger people liked it better. There’s something just about being a jaded adult with children seeing this movie. Shockingly, they also thought it was inappropriate. They say “shit” something like five times, there’s dick jokes and “I banged your mom” jokes… I mean, these are the things to me that made it so amazing. These jokes were mindblowing to me when I saw it. And, again, they would never be in a kids movie today! It’s a very special movie.

BE: God, that’s so funny that you say that about it being inappropriate. I got The Goonies on Blu-ray for Christmas, so I decided to introduce my 8-year-old daughter to the movie…and as we’re watching it, I thought, “Wow, I did not remember that they said ‘shit’ so many times…”

AG: I know! It’s crazy! So many “shits,” some inappropriate jokes, and…well, it was done smack in the middle of the ‘80s, just at the dawning of PG-13, but, again, you just couldn’t make this movie today. The movie starts with a dude hanging himself! [Laughs.] A kid’s movie starts with a dude hanging himself in jail! It’s amazing! But whenever I watch it… Whenever it screens at the Arclight, I go, and I still think it holds up, but lot of these movies from our childhood… I just watched Flight of the Navigator. Does not hold up at all. Some of these movies I watched a bunch as a kid and worshipped – Explorers is another one – they just don’t hold up. They don’t hold up the way that you remembered. But for me Goonies is one that still stands the test of time.

BE: I don’t want to offer any specific spoilers to the readers, but just in generic terms, can you speak to whether or not anyone from the film makes an appearance in the episode?

AG: No, because there’s a rule I have on the show. I love the ‘80s as much as someone can love the ‘80s, and your temptation is that, like, we’re doing an episode about The Karate Kid and my brother being obsessed with karate, and I literally wrote a tag for Daniel-san and Billy Zabka…and then we kind of stepped back. Because, you know, you’re doing a show about this movie, you want to see these people that you grew up on, that you worshipped, but at that moment, my rule became, “If it didn’t happen to me as a kid, I can’t do it.”

And I have people calling! Like, Tony Danza loves the show and called and said, “Can you put me on it?” For the Goonies episode, I was talking with Corey Feldman and emailing with him – which was awesome! – and he was, like, “I love the show! Can you put me on it?” And I was, like, “It’s just hard, because in our world you’re Corey Feldman! I can’t make you Uncle Jim. It’s going to be, like, ‘Why is Corey Feldman here?’ This show is about me growing up, and I never met you growing up, and I really want to keep it honest to that.” So the general rule is that if I didn’t meet them or have an interaction with them, then I can’t justify it being on my show.

The only real celebrity I met growing up is Adam Sandler. His parents had a place in Florida, and when we’d go on vacation where Pops had a place, I met Adam many times growing up. And The Goldbergs is a Happy Madison show, so who knows on that aspect? I technically could have him on the show. But other than that… You know, to have Corey Feldman in the Goonies episode, either playing a character or playing himself…well, he’s not a 12-year-old kid anymore. [Laughs.] He’s a grown man! So the short answer is, no, none of them appear in the episode, but what I did do was…

The reason you don’t often see clips in TV shows of anything is because it’s a whole rigmarole to get permission. You not only have to get permission from all of the actors and the studio, but you have to get permission to do something called ad promo, meaning that ABC or whoever has it – Hulu, whoever – can promo the actors. Most actors say no to that, because, like, Josh Brolin doesn’t want The Goldbergs saying, “Josh Brolin is on The Goldbergs tonight!” Especially not for clips. So I worked for eight months to get Warner Brothers to say yes to ad promo, which is the only way ABC will agree to put it on. Basically, I wrote Warner Brothers letter after letter, sent bottles of wine, and I said, “This is my dream! Can you please give me ad promo for Goonies?” And after eight months of begging, they said yes. So it’s the first time Warner Brothers has ever said yes to that.

The next thing we had to do was get (Steven) Spielberg’s permission, so our director, David Katzenberg, obviously had an in, so Spielberg also said yes. And I needed ad promo and permission from all of the actors, and everyone also had to agree to do it for money that we could afford, so I got everyone to say yes except for Jeff Cohen. He said no, and it was heartbreaking. So he’s not in the show in any way. We talk about him. We do a Truffle Shuffle bit, of course. But we can’t show him and we can’t show his likeness or anything. But it’s the first time that we’ve had the Goonies’ music, the Goonies’ clips, the first time it’s been on TV in a reference like the way we’re doing it. So I’m excited about that, at least. I open with a big Goonies montage. I think anyone who saw the movie will enjoy the montage, and anyone who hasn’t will be introduced it for the first time, which is cool.

You know, writing letters has been a big thing for this show for me. Everything you see on the show… I’d say anything I mention, I’ve written a letter for. And these are all things that are important to me that I have a big knowledge of. I’m a giant nerd, you know. [Laughs.] So the Fraggles… Convincing the Henson Company that I should do a sex talk with Fraggles, they were, like, “Are you fucking kidding me?” And then I reminded Lisa Henson that I pitched the Fraggle movie – twice! – and that I wrote the first Disney Muppet movie (The Muppet Wizard of Oz), and I sent her a bottle of wine, and she was, like, “Cool.” So that takes a lot of effort and time. Hasbro, LucasFilm, they have to not only agree to let us use it, but also for ad promo. And that’s a huge thing for people. Hasbro’s, like, “We don’t want The Goldbergs using Optimus Prime to advertise their show!” So I have to convince them through my passion. Otherwise none of this stuff can be in the show. And it’s one of the main reasons I’m doing it.

BE: As indicated, I’m a huge fan of the show. My wife and I make a point of watching it live whenever we’re able, and even when we aren’t, it’s the Tuesday 9PM show that TiVo, whereas the other two shows that are on at that time we watch on Hulu.

AG: Wow, thank you. That’s flattering. There’s really no reason to watch live TV anymore – comedies especially – unless it’s, like, The Voice or American Idol or sports or something, so whenever someone says they watch it live, it means so much. [Laughs.]

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BE: I remember during the TCA panel for the show when Jeff Garlin said, “If this show was just about the ‘80s, I wouldn’t be doing it.” It did feel in the beginning like it was a bit heavier on the ‘80s stuff when it first began, but I figured that was mostly to grab the viewers and get them onboard first.

AG: Yeah, you know, it’s funny, because I’m not… You know, show-runners spend their time in different ways. I have an amazing writer that’s actually lifelong friends with Jeff Garlin, who was a writer on (Everybody Loves) Raymond – a guy named Lew Schneider – who’s only down on set. And those first episodes are so ‘80s-heavy because, like, I think props went a little crazy, and they were, like, “Let’s put in a Rubik’s Cube! Let’s put in this! Let’s put in that!” And I should’ve looked closer in those first couple of episodes. There was, like, a Rubik’s Cube in the foreground of a shot for a whole scene, and I was, like, “C’mon, guys, that’s bonkers! I know everybody’s excited, but…” [Laughs.]

So I started to be more hands-on. I was so overwhelmed at the beginning with getting the show off the ground and having the scripts be good, and just the reality of having a show, that I didn’t look closely enough. And it wasn’t until, like, the third episode that I basically sent out an email saying, “Any props – any toy, any t-shirt, any poster, whatever – it all has to go through me.” So I think that’s why it got a little bit more specific and a little more toned-down. I think we had to find that, and I realized that I had to play a bigger part in that than I really thought I would. But it’s hard, because I love the ‘80s. I love the stuff I love. Like, I’m gonna want to talk about it every episode ad nauseum. [Laughs.] What I enjoy, though, is that people either relate or they’re so young that they have no idea what it is and they’re curious about it. So that’s been exciting on Twitter to see some 12-year-old kid saying, “I just watched Back to the Future! It’s fucking awesome!”

BE: Well, as a kid who lived through the ‘80s – and wore glasses and was very nerdy – the series speaks to me in such a remarkable way.

AG: So basically I just wrote a show for you.

BE: Yeah, that’s how I spin it to other people.

AG: [Laughs.] The thing that’s interesting with the Adam character…I mean, that’s who I pitched. I basically said, “It’s me.” I said, “Look, I wrote Fanboys, I wrote the Revenge of the Nerds reboot, and that’s me as a kid.” And I was really worried that a network wouldn’t want that kind of kid on the air, because generally I think their young characters…they want them to be cool. That was definitely the rule at FOX. I think Kevin (Reilly) really just wanted… You could have quirky characters, but he wanted them all to be winners in their own way. And my family…like, Barry…we were kind of like outcasts.

So I’m really happy that ABC loves those characters, because I think on other networks they’d be more worried that they were coming across not as complete winners. But ABC just embraces these characters, and maybe it’s because they’re real people, too. They’re just having trust in me that the characters will still be loveable and winners in their own way. But, yeah, that’s me as a kid. I wore Tron outfits as a kid. [Laughs.]

BE: I know we’re coming up on time, but can you speak a bit about what we’ll be seeing beyond the Goonies episode?

AG: Sure! You know, I obviously had to do a big Star Wars themed episode in Season 1. That’s one I’m really excited about. And then… I had a bully on my school bus named J.C. Spink who went on to produce the Hangover movies, and…he loves the show! I’ve known him for years, and when I say he was a bully, he made me cry by spitting spitballs at me. It was all within the rules of the school bus in the ‘80s, nothing too crazy. But I told him, “Hey, I’m doing an episode about the time you made me cry on the school bus, and how you tortured me with those fucking spitballs,” and he’s, like, “Dude! I’ll sign away my likeness, I don’t care, but I’ve gotta be on The Goldbergs! That’s a dream!” So in the most surreal moment probably ever, I put him in the show as the bus driver…and he’s yelling at himself as a little kid. [Laughs.] So it’s just moments like that that are just mind-blowing and awesome: that this kid who made me cry on the school bus is yelling at the character J.C. who’s just made Adam cry. That’s pretty sweet.

Obviously there’ll be more family stuff. I’m trying to think if there’s anything else. Oh, I’m doing a Lazer Tag episode! But, you know, the ‘80s stuff actually comes after. Like, with Star Wars, that started from a memory, and that’s obviously a big pop culture thing. But something like Lazer Tag… We just had that as kind of a “oh, remember Lazer Tag?” thing. We had a whole conversation about the first time we went to Lazer Tag, and then we just kept that on the board to try and remember that as something cool that we can do. And then we thing of a fun character story, and then we hang an ‘80s thing around it…and Lazer Tag fit perfectly into a story. And it was amazing to go on eBay and get all the things I always wanted as a kid. They have Lazer Tag helmets, this bulky silver helmet with the red sensor on top, and to put it on Jeff Garlin and have him post it on Twitter…? That’s just awesome.

BE: Well, it’s always awesome just to be able to buy cool stuff and call it a legitimate business experience!

AG: Oh, yeah! Oh, for sure. I mean, that G.I. Joe aircraft carrier was a moment where my line producer sat me down and said, “Are we really spending, like, three grand on a G.I. Joe aircraft carrier? Are you kidding me? What are you talking about?” And I’m, like, “It’ll speak to so many people.” “No one will even notice!” I’m, like, “Okay, first of all, it’s, like, 10 feet long. They’re gonna notice. But second of all, it’s a toy that everyone wanted.” And, of course, this amazing guy at this pop culture blog, Dinosaur Dracula, went on and on talking about all the toys and did freeze-frame. [Laughs.]

I think that’s the thing that’s the most special to me. You know, I’m in a world with a lot of comedy writers, and most of ‘em…they’re either people like me, who love it, or they’re people who don’t know it at all, but…I’m in a very insulated vacuum. So to know that there are people out there who were like me as a kid…? Because I felt so alone. It was the ‘80s: there were no blogs or Facebook. I couldn’t find anyone like me in my school. So to go and discover now and put out what I experienced and have someone like you say, “We were the same”? That’s awesome to me. Because I felt like there was no one like me. I felt like I was a weirdo left alone in a family of people that didn’t understand anything I liked. So that’s been really cool and really special. And it’s really special when, like, I post that there’s a Goonies episode, so many people are, like, “I am so psyched for this!” And my brother, of course, is, like, “Dude, I hope that people don’t, like, leave the show after watching it, ‘cause Goonies sucks!” [Laughs.] Oh, Barry….

  

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