February 21, 2020

‘This Is Us’ Creator Dan Fogelman Divulges Show Secrets

From left: Chris Sullivan (Toby), Chrissy Metz (Kate), Mandy Moore (Rebecca), Milo Ventimiglia (Jack), Justin Hartley (Kevin), Sterling K. Brown (Randall), Susan Kelechi Watson (Beth). Photo courtesy of NBC

With its relatable characters, time-shifting storylines, unexpected twists and plenty of Kleenex-worthy moments, “This is Us” has been both a ratings juggernaut and a fan favorite since it premiered in September 2016. 

During a visit to the set last month, creator Dan Fogelman gave some hints about the upcoming final two episodes in the third season and revealed a little of what viewers can expect next season.

“Now that we know how Jack died, probably the No. 1 question I get is, ‘Are Randall and Beth going to make it?’ ” Fogelman said. “That means people are invested in their marriage, which is a good thing. We’ve kind of put them in a washing machine [this season] and we’ll see how they come out.” 

Fogelman wouldn’t divulge details about the identity of an ailing female referred to only as “her” in a flash-forward that aired in January. However, he said that the April 2 season finale is titled “Her” and “there are a lot of answers given; a lot of the stuff that people have been waiting for,” he promised.

Fogelman and his writing team are already at work on Season 4. “Most shows go on hiatus for four or five months, but we don’t take a hiatus,” he said. “That allows us to get a head start on the next season and plan for multiple seasons. Because of the way we play with time, you can make one little decision and you don’t think it’s that important, but when you get to 14 episodes from then you realize you’ve pinned us in by making that decision. I learned very early on not to put ourselves in that position.”

“Now that we know how Jack died, probably the No. 1 question I get is, ‘Are Randall and Beth going to make it?’ That means people are invested in their marriage, which is a good thing.
— Dan Fogelman

Crafting those flash-forward episodes requires a light hand when it comes to setting the scene and two sets of growing children require Fogelman to shift accordingly. “Now our teenagers are college kids and we get to show that transition in their lives, going to college and reinventing themselves after their father died. The little kids are entering puberty and adolescence, which gives us different stories to tell,” he said. “All that is really interesting for us.”

Season 4 will continue to explore Kevin’s battle with alcohol and drugs. “You’re never done grappling with addiction and that’s one of many things we explore this season and the next,” Fogelman said. 

Despite patriarch Jack’s death last season, he will remain a key part of “This is Us” in flashbacks. “We love doing the Milo [Ventimiglia] with the moustache period, with the little kids,” Fogelman said. “And we can do more [parallel] episodes like we did with Jack tracking down his brother while the older kids track down their Uncle Nicky.” No decision has been made about having Michael Angarano or Griffin Dunne (who play Nicky at different ages) return, Fogelman said. “But we love both actors and love what it does for Kevin’s storyline and the family’s story.”

There also will be more to come about the beginning of Rebecca and Miguel’s relationship. “They got together not right after Jack’s death but a couple of years after,” Fogelman said. “That’s a different time period and, when we enter new time periods, we like to do it gently so we don’t give the audience whiplash. But we will get there.”

Fogelman also promised some cast additions next season. “Some things will be happening that affect characters in a very exciting way. We don’t have the actors yet,” he said. So far, none is Jewish. But as he told the Journal in 2017, “You can see my Jewish family in these WASP-y characters.”

He emphasized that he has an endgame for the series in mind, but wouldn’t reveal exactly when it would play out. “We don’t want to stay past our welcome. We have a plan for the entire show, for what will happen to each character and, roughly, when. We always had a plan. We weren’t making up stuff as we went along.”

Fogelman has rarely strayed from that plan. “It was difficult to kill off Ron Cephas Jones’ character [William] in the first season,” he said, “but it was always the plan because it informed Sterling [K. Brown]’s character and the plan for multiple seasons.” 

Fogelman resists tailoring plots to audience desires, but won’t write a twist just for shock value, either. “I’m not going to make Randall and Beth get divorced just to mess with people, and I’m also not going to keep them together just because it pleases everybody,” he said. “If we’ve changed anything, it’s because we came up with a better idea, not because we felt pressured into doing that.”

However, he added that he fully expects the plot questions to persist, especially where deaths are concerned. “I know that until we see everyone happy and healthy in the future, I will keep getting questions about it.”  

“This is Us” airs Tuesdays on NBC.