Sep 30, 2020

“So much of what we do is to humanize the Latinx experience in America.”

When One Day At A Time migrates from Pop TV to CBS on Oct. 12, it will become the only primetime show on broadcast television starring a Latinx family.

For Justina Machado, who plays the PTSD-battling military veteran and single mom Penelope on the reboot of the Norman Lear classic, that gives the show a special responsibility.

“The importance is changing the narrative that’s been put out about Latinx people,” Machado told an audience of ViacomCBS employees in a virtual panel. “We’re doctors, we’re lawyers, we’re immigrants, we’re hard-working Americans. We’re American. And that’s why it’s important to be able to see yourself represented when you’re not just the maid, the gardener, or the nanny. When you’re actually a person.”

Machado joined the rest of the show’s cast and executive producers for the online event, which ViacomCBS’ Somos Latinx Employee Resource Group organized to kick off Hispanic Heritage Month. The wide-ranging discussion addressed One Day At A Time’s impact on broadening the Latinx story beyond persistent stereotypes, its unflinching approach to social issues, and its universal appeal—and how all of these things underscored Lear’s enormous legacy of creating inclusive mass entertainment.

“So much of what we do is to humanize the Latino experience in America,” said co-showrunner Gloria Calderón Kellett. “To be able to put forward our stories from us, about us behind and in front of the camera in a moment where there is a lot of misperception about the Latino community, rights the wrongs that I think we have seen on TV for too long. We are largely stuck, unfortunately even in the year 2020, in a sort of narco-novela narrative, where that’s the only chance that people get to see us.”

The stars chafe at the idea that the show’s appeal would be limited because the cast is predominantly Latinx.

“Sometimes when people say, ‘well is it a Latino show, because I don’t know if I can relate to that,’ it’s really interesting, because I grew up only watching white shows and I related to all of them, because we’re people. This is a show about family and about love,” said Machado. “We’ve been portrayed as something you don’t understand, and that’s why it was so important to do this show.”

Making It Real to Make It Relatable

Part of that universal appeal stems from the wide range of social issues that the show explores. Isabella Gomez’s character Elena, who is Penelope’s daughter, comes out as a lesbian during the show’s first season, to mixed reactions from her family.

“There’s so little representation for both the Latinx community and LGBT community, so to get to embody a character that’s both and also that’s layered, and has something to say, and is elegant and cultured and is going to change the world—I couldn’t have dreamed up a better character,” said Gomez. “I think that’s why the show resonates with people, it’s because all of these characters have so much intersectionality. They’re not just one thing. Elena is not just the lesbian character. It’s just a part of her.”

Todd Grinnell, who plays Schneider, a recovering alcoholic who relapses after a fraught exchange with his family in Season 3, also appreciated the way the characters transcend easy labels.

“That’s my favorite thing about the show, and about Norman’s shows historically,” he said. “It’s not just laugh, laugh, laugh and it’s over in a half an hour and you forget about it 10 seconds later. These are shows that have an impact in your life and allow people to have connections and relate to everybody. I could have been the wacky next-door neighbor that was really one-dimensional and just kind of like was a clown, and I got to be a real person.”

The show’s producers and writers take care to present these issues in a multi-faceted manner.

“One thing you have built into that show is that you have a conservative, a moderate and a liberal, who are having conversations all the time,” said Calderón Kellett. “When we talk about something, everyone gets to talk about what they feel and think, and it’s rare to find that sort of discourse. It’s a show that’s really about love and about trying to build bridges toward one another in what are divisive times.”

Building on Norman Lear’s Inclusive Legacy

To fans of the show’s original run, this social relevance will feel very familiar. The show’s 2017 Netflix reboot built off the progressive legacy of One Day At A Time’s 10-season run on CBS from 1975 to 1984, which portrayed a single mother raising her two children at a time when most mainstream entertainment revolved around the nuclear family. Norman Lear, who produced that first run and, at age 98, acts as an executive producer on the current show, also developed and produced many 1970s and ‘80s sitcoms that elevated the African American experience into pop culture, including Sanford and Son, Good Times, and The Jeffersons.

Lear’s legacy of creating inclusive, stereotype-busting entertainment proved to be a motivating factor for many of the show’s actors and producers.

“Two words: Norman Lear,” Rita Moreno, who plays Penelope’s mother Lydia, said when asked why the show appealed to her as an actor. “He’s someone I’ve admired forever and ever. I knew because it was Norman that the show would be extremely funny, but I also knew that it would have issues and that it would get deeply, deeply serious, and sometimes extremely sad, because Norman is at the head of that kind of serial comedy. This is the guy who really invented that and knows how to do it, and I felt personally that I was in terrific hands.”

The producers hinted that fans may see more Norman Lear reboots. “We are exploring a lot of the library of Norman Lear,” said Executive Producer Brent Miller. “We’re asking, ‘Where does representation need to be stronger?’ We’re not doing it to check a box. What’s authentic about the story we’re telling? That’s our goal. However, we can have a slice of life that’s about the country we’re in.”

Finding a New Home on CBS

The show, like so much of entertainment, has been in flux since production shut down in March to help stop the spread of Covid-19. While the cast and crew managed to produce a novel animated episode during the height of the shutdown, the producers said that the writers have completed six additional, yet-to-be-produced episodes.

For those who are unfamiliar with the show’s current iteration, its CBS debut will act as an orientation. “Our first episode is quite a reset, a real ‘meet the Alvarezes,’” said co-showrunner Mike Royce, who added that Ray Romano would appear as a guest star.

CBS, with its huge audience and storied sitcom legacy, is an ideal home for the show, according to Royce. “All praise to our previous networks, but One Day At A Time has been a CBS sitcom-in-waiting for a very long time. What we try to do is that classic CBS sitcom that has a lot of emotional content as well as a lot of laughs.”

The One Day At A Time conversation was the first in a month-long series of Somos-hosted events to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, which this year overlaps with ViacomCBS’ Inclusion Week, a multi-day symposium that will celebrate and elevate diversity of all kinds and will feature leaders, influencers, and talent.

The new season of One Day At A Time is set to premiere Oct. 12 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.

Related Articles