Ray Richmond contributes to Deadline’s TV coverage.
What’s in a name? It turns out plenty, at least in the case of the new Wednesday night ABC comedy The Neighbors. Based on creator-exec producer Dan Fogelman’s dysfunctional New Jersey family, it stars Jami Gertz and has among its cast members a young actress named Clara Mamet. If the surname looks familiar, it should. Mamet is the daughter of famed playwright David Mamet and the sister of Zosia Mamet, a regular on the HBO comedy Girls. In the case of Zosia, there has been much grousing in the press over perceived nepotistic casting. But with regard to Clara, Fogelman maintained during a TCA panel this morning that no nepotism was involved — to an almost embarrassing degree. “We had no idea who Clara was when she came in and read for us”, he admitted. “We immediately put her on tape and sent it in to the network as our choice for that part. I didn’t find out until like a month later who she was…To be honest I just didn’t put it together, and in retrospect I should have”. Added Gertz: “She got it the old fashioned way. She auditioned for the part”. When asked if she thought it unfair for her sister to be dissed over getting cast on Girls, Mamet said, “I think my sister’s incredibly talented, I don’t think anyone should judge her based on her family. She got that job because she’s a great actress”. Fogelman followed by quipping, “I did cast Lenny because of who his father was” — speaking of costar Lenny Venito.
Also on the subject of names, The Neighbors centers on a normal family landing in a community where all of the residents are aliens and have the same names as famous athletes, including: Larry Bird, Reggie Jackson, Dick Butkus and Jackie Joyner-Kersee. Fogelman was asked if he needed to get clearances to use the names or if they were considered in the public domain. “Oh no, we had to clear them”, he stressed, “which we thought was going to be a big problem”. But he added that most of the athletes contacted like the show and think it’s “kind of cool” to have an alien named after them. So most are signing off. But not all. Larry Bird was originally Wilt Chamberlain, but it was nixed. “The lesson I learned,” Fogelman noted, “is that dead athletes are harder to get the rights for their names. These are all of the things they never taught you when you were thinking of going to law school”.