Netflix’s ‘The Ranch’ Toys With Sitcom Lighting, Length, And Language – TCA

“We’re doing a very traditional [sitcom] format, with a live audience, but because we’re working with Netflix we get to explore” the genre, The Ranch star/EP Ashton Kutcher told TV critics this morning at TCA.  Kutcher plays a failed football player who returns to Colorado to help run the family ranching business with his brother, played by Kutcher’s That 70’s Show pal Danny Masterson. Also in the cast: Sam Elliott as their conservative dad and Debra Winger as the strong-willed mom.

Among the stuffier sitcom traditions the creators and cast hope to explode: “We don’t have to pump a comedic joke at the end of every scene, don’t have a 22-minute time capsule,” Kutcher crowed. Netflix, he said, has been extraordinarily supportive as The Ranch break with sitcom traditions like music and lighting.

Most sitcoms on TV are very brightly lit, noted Jim Patterson, the EP who co-created the series with Don Reo. “We’ve made this how people live,” Patterson said, noting “When I go home at night, I don’t turn on every single light in my home. You live in shadows.”

“When we want to create the look and image of the show, you have to respect what’s around you,” Kutcher said. “You don’t want something that’s going to bleed ‘fiction.’ Netflix has given us the liberty to break [conventions] and we have gone after them hard.” The series introduces a new model for the streaming service, with a 20-episode order to be released in two batches, premiering 10 episodes at a time twice a year.

Kutcher said he knew he wanted to reunite with Reo and Patterson while still working with them on CBS’s Two and a Half Men, and that the three even discussed a possible spinoff. And he and Masterson, he said, had been talking for years about working together again.

One reporter noted sitcom profanity is kind of new and wondered how they got away with that.  “We talked about the F-word and how to use it judiciously and pick a spot,” Reo said. “It lasted two pages –so it’s on the second page” of the first episode, he laughed

Kutcher noted the TV critic had said “get away with” it, “as if it’s like something that you have to be sneaky about. “The truth is, this is a show about conservative hard-working people…in middle America. I grew up in that family. I grew up in a really small town. It was god, church, America. My grandfather went to church every Sunday and would drop an F-bomb here and there. It’s just real. It’s just honest.  The thing we’re trying to do, as best as we possibly know, is to reflect the honesty of this world, without disrespect.”

Interestingly, none of the men on the panel actually used the expletive in question during the conversation with a room full of adults about the use of the word in the series. All of them opted instead for the coy euphemisms. Only Debra Winger when asked if it the ability to use profanity on the series was important responded, “a full f*cking lot.”  Winger said it to make a point: “It’s true that it gives us a certain freedom,” she observed. “But sometimes it’s enough “rope.”  Being in the entertainment industry, her whole life, she said,  she’s observed that in the industry is where she’s “heard people talk in ways I never heard anyone else talk.”

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