After six seasons, you might think there would be nothing left to learn about The Goldbergs, the 1980s-set ABC sitcom whose laser focus on creator Adam F. Goldberg’s Jenkintown boyhood has helped build a devoted fan base of “Goldnerds,” and led to Schooled, a 1990s-set half-hour he created with Marc Firek that was inspired by Goldberg’s teachers at Philadelphia’s William Penn Charter School.
But in talking to Goldberg for a piece about the show’s May 1 Mother’s Day episode, I learned some things I hadn’t covered two years ago in “15 things you might not know about The Goldbergs,” including:
Why Bradley Cooper can’t be a character but Bradley Gooper can. Don’t blame Cooper, another Jenkintown native, for Gooper. A character played by Thomas Kasp, he’s appeared in a couple of episodes, most recently in this season’s “Major League’d,” in which Adam (Sean Giambrone) and his equally unathletic friends were recruited to play baseball. “He was such a good sport, and said yes” to being a character," Goldberg said of the Oscar-nominated Cooper, who graduated from Germantown Academy, a football rival of Penn Charter’s. But the deal fell apart because ABC requires such agreements to come with permission to use the person’s name in ads or promos — even if it has no plans to do so. “No agent is going to say yes to it,” Goldberg said.
That Goldberg made a movie in high school with Fox News’ Jesse Watters. “I have footage still” of Watters, who went to Penn Charter from kindergarten through the 11th grade, when his family moved to Long Island, Goldberg said. “The amazing thing about him … is that his dad was like the biggest hippie on the planet. So fascinating. I mean his dad literally talked to us — I remember it vividly — about protesting … and the Students for a Democratic Society, all that stuff.” And, yes, a “Jessie Wudders,” played by Sloane Morgan Siegel, has made a couple of appearances on The Goldbergs, including “Major League’d.”
Nailing down the 1980s pop-culture details still often falls to Goldberg. "It is heartbreaking and soul-sapping when you want to be writing scripts … to have to get on the phone and convince” people to give their permission to use names, or images, or even toys. “I’ve been sending bottles of wine to everyone in town. I’ve been buying gifts. It’s a nightmare,” Goldberg said. On the other hand, “I’ve made some really cool friends, like Weird Al [Yankovic, who played himself in a 2016 episode]. … Because I have to write letters when anyone else [on the production] gets a no.”
It’s no coincidence that some of the show’s directors are people 1980s or ’90s Adam would have loved to meet. “It definitely is a reason that I hire them,” Goldberg said of bringing on directors like Joanna Kerns (Growing Pains), Lea Thompson (Back to the Future), Fred Savage (The Wonder Years), Melissa Joan Hart (Sabrina the Teenage Witch), and Kevin Smith (Clerks). But their experience, not their pop-culture cred, is the main reason. “If your director doesn’t deliver, it’s a nightmare,” he said, and "when someone’s been in the business for a long time, they’re usually very skilled,” particularly at working with actors. “My favorite director in town is Fred [Savage]. He’s so fast and thoughtful and smart and funny. He just brings out jokes that you didn’t even imagine would be there.”
Jenkintown wasn’t crazy about the real Goldbergs. Or so says the man whose show has led some fans to make a pilgrimage to the Montgomery County borough, stopping by locations like the Hiway Theater on York Road that have been featured on the show and then telling him about it on Twitter. “Jenkintown did not like my family growing up, because my mom was always in there complaining,” he said. “My mom was always fighting with the city. Always.”
Jeopardy! tapes on the soundstage next to The Goldbergs. "Jeopardy! was always playing in my house,” said Goldberg, who recently had a Goldbergs episode in which Erica (Hayley Orrantia) was trying out to compete on the game show. He’s never seen host Alex Trebek around the studio lot, but “we’ve been answers on Jeopardy! three times in the last six years. And this year was the first time someone actually got the question right.”
The Goldbergs. 8 p.m. Wednesday, ABC.