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Philly burb's at center of 'Goldbergs' universe

Jenkintown native isn’t just riffing on his ’80s childhood. He’s naming names.

ABC’s “The Goldbergs.”
ABC’s “The Goldbergs.”Read more

* THE GOLDBERGS. 9 tonight, 6ABC.

SOME people share their old family photos and memories on Facebook.

Others sort through their childhoods with a therapist.

Adam F. Goldberg has a TV show for both of those things.

For Goldberg, who's spent the past TV season painstakingly reconstructing his Jenkintown boyhood on a studio lot in Culver City, Calif., ABC's "The Goldbergs" has turned out to be more specific than what he envisioned when he first pitched a sitcom about growing up in the '80s and used his home movies to sell it.

Plenty of shows have been set in and around Philadelphia. But characters in "The Goldbergs" don't just wear Flyers shirts or Phillies caps. They shop at the Willow Grove Park mall, play hockey at the Old York Road Skating Club, party in Abington's Alverthorpe Park.

Many bear the names of people Goldberg knew growing up. Sometimes they're even seen, along with Goldberg's actual family, in the closing credits.

"Honestly, when I was writing it and initially shooting the pilot, it was just Anywhere, USA. I wasn't going to get that deep into the local references," said Goldberg, who included Jenkintown's Hiway Theater in next week's episode, and whose office wall displays the treasure map of the town from the show's tribute to "The Goonies" (which inexplicably places the town in Berks County, not Montgomery).

"Look, it's a show about my childhood," he said. And once ABC decided to title the show "The Goldbergs," "I decided this has to be . . . about what it was like to grow up in Jenkintown, which is a small, adorable little town."

A graduate of Philadelphia's William Penn Charter School, Goldberg also made the unusual-for-a-sitcom decision to send his character Adam (Sean Giambrone) to "William Penn Academy."

"I love the idea that he goes to a Quaker school. You have never seen that on television. And eventually I will get into the fact that he does go to a Quaker school, because I think it's fascinating."

Naming names

Though he changed the school's name at the behest of studio lawyers, Goldberg eventually decided he'd rather not assign fictional names to people he knew.

He'd already named his main characters after family: his late father, Murray, is played by Jeff Garlin; his mother, Beverly, by Wendi McLendon-Covey; his brother, Barry, by Troy Gentile; and his late grandfather, Albert "Pops" Solomon, by George Segal.

A made-for-TV compromise turned his oldest brother, Eric, into Erica. Hayley Orrantia plays the sister he never actually had.

"He's been in the videos, so he's still seen on national TV," said Goldberg, laughing, of the left-out Eric, who, like their father was in real life, is a doctor, as is the real Barry. (It was Murray's father who owned the furniture store.) "I think he's bummed at times, but then he sees how much I harsh on Barry and then he's happy."

He didn't want to stop with family, so "at a certain point I just had a phone call with [the studio] and I said, 'Look, I'm going to be using real places, real names, so let's just not worry about it, and we'll get everyone to sign off.' "

For instance, he said, "in the 'Goonies' episode, we showed my high-school yearbook at the end. There was a page, our class page, I had to get 50 people to sign off, to use their likeness.

"And I had to reach out to all of them on Facebook, which has been really fun. . . . Look, I wish I would have done the William Penn Charter School. I don't know that they would let me, honestly. But I think that everyone gets the idea that it's the same place. And the teachers I've named are the teachers that are still there."

No bad publicity

Growing up across the street from the real Goldbergs, Chad Kremp had a front-row seat for the future sitcom family's antics.

"The way they act on the TV show is how they acted. They would scream at each other, throw tantrums left and right," recalled Kremp, who, as Adam's boyhood best friend, is a recurring character on the show, where he's played by Jacob Hopkins.

"Adam's dad would always take his pants off as soon as he came in the front door. Everything you see on the show is exactly how they were."

Kremp himself briefly appeared in "The Kremps" episode, in which his seemingly normal family is contrasted with Adam's.

"I was the guy working in the deli that Mrs. Kremp actually complains to," said Kremp, whose family business, Willow Grove-based Kremp Florist, also got a mention.

"Every year we're at the Philadelphia Flower Show down at the convention center, and it was amazing how many people came up" and mentioned seeing the family on "The Goldbergs," said Kremp, vice president for sales.

"We want the name out there. Any publicity is good publicity."

Kremp said that the two talk "a couple of times a week," and that Goldberg's already discussing storylines for next season. (ABC hasn't yet officially picked up the show, but Goldberg said that "it's looking fantastic. We're staffing up and hiring people.")

There'll be other characters named Kremp - Chad's mother and brother Drew - in tonight's episode (though the storyline, in which Erica breaks up with Drew, is fictional).

Sweetening his story

Goldberg has reaped a few rewards from his local focus.

The "Flyers have reached out to me, a lot. . . . And that was like my team growing up, and my favorite player sent me an autographed jersey from the '80s, early '90s," he said.

"His name was Mike Bullard. He was only on the team for four years, but he had cool hair."

As a kid, "Barry was always wearing an Eagles or a Flyers shirt, and I loved that. I told my costume people, 'Fight the urge to give him a new outfit every episode. My brother wore the same thing every day.' "

Tastykake also recently shipped his office some snack cakes, which were "gone immediately," he said.

"Growing up, we had no junk food in the house, and Tastykakes would arrive maybe two or three times a year, a box of them, and it was the hugest deal. Barry and I, he would come into my room before I was going to bed. We'd have a code, which is, 'We're sneaking tonight.' He'd set his alarm and he'd come at like 2 in the morning and sneak down. And I'd grab a packet and we'd eat them under his bed at like 2 in the morning."

So TV Adam gets more Tastykakes than real Adam did?

"There's so much wish-fulfillment in this show," he said. "I mean, it's like half autobiography and half wish-fulfillment.

"I did an episode about how my dad made movies with me and I showed a little video at the end that we made together. The reality was, those moments were so few and far between because, again, he was in his underpants watching TV after a hard day's work."

Goldberg's wife, a therapist with whom he has a son and daughter, "was very touched by the episode [saying], 'It's an homage to your father, but it's also so much wish-fulfillment. I see how [differently] you play with your son.' . . . She literally sees how I'm working it out, on the show."

On Twitter: @elgray