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Torrey Pines grad creates, produces new TV sitcom ‘Abby’s’

Abby’s - Season 1
Josh Malmuth, center, on the set of “Abby’s.”
(NBC / Paul Drinkwater)

A Torrey Pines High School grad and Carmel Valley native will bring television audiences into San Diego with his new NBC sitcom, “Abby’s.”

Josh Malmuth, the show’s creator and executive producer, sets the show, premiering Thursday, March 28 at 9:30 p.m., at an unlicensed backyard bar in San Diego’s South Park. The show centers around the main character, Abby (Natalie Morales), who welcomes her oddball neighbors to the watering hole for cheap drinks and laughs.

Malmuth, who graduated from TPHS in 2002 and also co-produced the TV comedy “New Girl,” recently spoke about his new show in an interview.

For more information about “Abby’s,” visit www.nbc.com/abbys

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Q: How did you develop the premise behind Abby’s?

A: The sitcoms I loved growing up had very simple setups. I watched ‘Honeymooners,’ ‘I Love Lucy,’ ‘The Dick Van Dyke Show,’ ‘Cheers’ and ‘Friends.’ When I was thinking about creating a show, I wanted to do something really simple, and I wanted it to be really about the characters. I wanted to give the characters a place to hang out. Sitcoms really are about the character relationships and a kind of family bond that develops between them.

I thought a bar is just a great place where everybody can be and enjoy themselves. You can really explore the character dynamic in a bar in a really natural, easy-going way. ... I had heard of people who had these unlicensed bars in their backyards, and they became kind of neighborhood gathering places. I thought that would be such an interesting setting for a show and something I haven’t seen before. The characters are in this kind of neighborhood club in Abby’s backyard. It just seems like a fun place to hang out and a fun place to be. I took the concept to [‘Abby’s’ co-producer and ‘Parks and Recreation’ co-creator] Mike Schur, and he was excited about it and agreed to help me out.

Q: Why did you decide to set the show in San Diego? Are there any local landmarks that you show?

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A: There aren’t any local landmarks. I think we do namecheck Sombrero Mexican Food and we mention some local beers. We talk about the Padres a lot. There’s definitely a feeling of San Diego, which I wanted to infuse into the show just because I love San Diego. I chose South Park because I love the mix of people that are in the neighborhood. You have a wide range of ages, people who are new, people who have been there forever. I thought it was just an interesting, eclectic, diverse mix of people that could make up an interesting bar clientele. It’s also a cool neighborhood, and I love how the houses look. That was the feeling I wanted for Abby’s house and her neighborhood.

Q: The set is in a backyard, and you filmed this outdoors with a live audience. What was that like?

A: That was one of the things that we got excited about early on in the process was the possibility of doing this as a live audience multi-cam show but actually doing it outside, which no one has ever really done before. It’s on the studio backlot at Universal Studios, but it’s in back of a house and we have bleachers and an audience back there, and it’s really cool.

Q: Were there any challenges with filming that way and in a location like that?

A: Yeah, there were some challenges. Sound, obviously, was a big challenge with airplanes, helicopters and traffic noise. Weather, fortunately, really cooperated for us. We wrapped before we got all this rain, which was really fortunate and great. In general, I think it just gives the show this feeling of authenticity. You’re just kind of able to lose yourself in this a little more, I think.

Q: With the bar setting, would you consider this as kind of a modern take on ‘Cheers’?

A: Only really in the sense that they both take place in a bar. I think that the characters and their relationships are very different. Since that’s really the heart and soul of the show, I think, in some ways, it’s almost sort of superficially similar. I definitely kind of drew on ‘Cheers’ for inspiration in the sense that that was a place where people wanted to spend time, both the characters and the viewers. That was an atmosphere that I really wanted to try to create. Even if I didn’t want it to be like ‘Cheers,’ I wanted that same, ‘This is home,’ vibe.

Q: You’ve worked on shows like ‘New Girl.’ What have you learned working on your previous shows, and how have you carried those lessons into ‘Abby’s?’

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A: You learn stuff every day. Every scene and every episode has new challenges. One of the most valuable things I’ve learned is that sitcoms, especially, are really about the performers. The writing — to the extent that it can be good or bad — is about really serving the talent and platforming your performers. We just have this incredible cast — Natalie Morales, Neil Flynn (of ‘Scrubs’ and ‘The Middle), Nelson Franklin, Jessica Chaffin — and I think that something I learned from past shows and brought into ‘Abby’s’ was that this is really about featuring their talent. I think the show will be successful because this cast is so wonderful. It’s not about you or the scripts, necessarily. It’s about these incredible actors and the characters that they bring to life.

Q: Abby is an openly bisexual lead character. What led you to that choice?

A: Really, it grew out of Natalie Morales identifying as queer and openly bisexual. It kind of grew out of conversations I had with her about what that’s like. We decided together that would be an interesting thing to bring to Abby and would open up areas and opportunities. When Natalie and I discussed it, and she was not only comfortable but also excited about portraying a bisexual character, I thought that was interesting and made sense for the character, so we ran with it.

Q: Why do you choose to produce sitcoms? Why have they stood the test of time for audiences?

A: I think that they become friends that we want to spend time with, and it’s a world in which we want to spend time. I think that’s why they’re so durable. If we’ve had a hard day, they help us kind of unwind, relax and make sense of the world a little bit. I think that’s what we’re really trying to do with ‘Abby’s’ is just provide this great, laid-back, fun place that you get to spend time and hang out with these great characters. ... It’s a place where a lot of points of view are welcome and people can relax over a drink and have a good time.


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