BEVERLY HILLS - When A&E's Born This Way premiered in December, what I most liked about it was that it wasn't too, too special.
As the mother of a young adult who, like the show's stars, happens to have Down syndrome, I'm not a big fan of special, which so often isn't. In playing themselves on television, these mostly twentysomethings were for once having an experience their more typical peers might envy.
But Born This Way (10 p.m. Tuesdays, A&E), which returned for a second season on July 26 and whose three Emmy nominations include one for outstanding unstructured reality program, is special in some ways, and its differences, says executive producer Jonathan Murray, may make it a little more real than other shows of its genre.
Murray should know. Along with the late Mary-Ellis Bunim, he created TV's pioneering series The Real World, and his credits include Project Runway and Keeping Up with the Kardashians.
With Born This Way, "we chose not to take these people and move them into a house together. That's not where they were," Murray told me during a breakfast at the Television Critics Association's summer meetings in Beverly Hills, where I'm stationed through Thursday to report industry news and where the show's stars and their parents mingled with TV writers.
"Because six of our cast members live at home, this also plays a little more documentary-like, because we're in those families," seeing how parents who may have fought for years for their children's right to an inclusive education are coping with their transition to an adulthood with new challenges and no one-size-fits-all solutions, he said.
I can identify. You might, too.
Some situations may be specific to the families of people with a disability, but I'm pretty sure worrying and pride and (occasionally exasperated) amusement are universal.
"Before I got involved with this, my knowledge of people with Down syndrome was the guy who bags my groceries sometimes at the grocery store," Murray said, and "what I love about this is we see the range" of abilities among people.
Though Elena, Megan, Steven, John, Sean, Rachel, and Cristina appear to me to be as comfortable on screen as most members of their filmed-from-birth generation, "they're not giving you a performance as much as a typical [reality show participant] might," Murray said.
"I feel like I'm getting more authentic moments, and maybe it's just because they're different from the moments I get with other shows."
He cited the July 26 episode with "Steven, talking about how lonely he is, being willing to be that vulnerable. . . . It is just so powerful, but it's so relatable to anyone out there. We've all felt that at times."
Besides arranging for an agent who works in alternative casting to represent the cast - "we didn't want to take advantage of anybody" - Murray said the show shoots for shorter days over a longer period than usual.
"We knew going in that we weren't going to be able to shoot this like a typical reality show, where you'd be shooting for 15 hours a day with some people. With our cast, they get tired," and find it harder to focus, he said.
One "by-product of this show is that they all feel such a sense of purpose. They're making a TV show," he said.
"And their families feel a sense of purpose. . . . They're having a chance to show to the world the efforts they made and share it with other families."
A couple of other notes from the first week of TCA's semiannual meetings, where we spend so much time talking with people about TV we have no time to watch:
In an interview a few summers ago, the Downton Abbey star expressed a yen to do U.S. TV and told me she thought her American accent was "pretty good."
Now, she's getting to show it off, along with a collection of wigs that rival Keri Russell's in FX's The Americans.
"I had a great coach for this, and Chad [Hodge, who created the show with Blake Crouch] is always pulling me up" when her accent goes off, Dockery said during a Turner-sponsored party last weekend.
"It's really fun playing an American. I love the way she talks . . . a lot of the voice of Letty is so much Blake and Chad, even though they're guys."
Good Behavior premieres Nov. 15.
There's a new documentary, Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You, playing at the Ritz at the Bourse - and coming to PBS's American Masters on Oct. 25 - but it's already out of date.
The legendary All in the Family producer, who turned 94 last month, refuses to stand still.
He's an executive producer of Netflix's in-development update of his One Day at a Time, starring Justina Machado and Rita Moreno.
Lear's also partnering with Shonda Rhimes (Scandal) and Common on a new documentary series, America Divided, premiering Sept. 30 on the not-on-Comcast premium channel Epix.
The issues-oriented show employs celebrity correspondents, including America Ferrera, Jesse Williams, Amy Poehler, Zach Galifianakis, Common, and Lear himself, who'll report on gentrification and racial discrimination in housing in New York City.
I asked Lear, who's been interviewed for decades, what he'd learned from being on the other side of that interaction.
"I learned, if I learned anything, that the reporting starts with being deeply interested," he said.
"I think a reporter's probably not doing his or her best if that person isn't highly interested. I was extremely interested in what we were dealing with. . . . So it's no surprise to me that my interest showed."
What surprised Lear, he told reporters, was the current cost of living in New York.
"I was horrified at how little I knew," he said.
"I don't think New York City generally understands that someone making a reasonable living . . . a doctor, a lawyer making a reasonable living, with two kids he'd like or she'd like to send to college, can no longer afford to live in New York City."
In addition, series creator Solly Granatstein, a former 60 Minutes producer, said, "Norman goes undercover with a hidden camera to expose racial discrimination in housing," conducting the kind of test the "federal government used to fund," but, Granatstein said, does not anymore.