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Why isn’t more of NBC’s Parenthood filmed in Berkeley?

The cast of Parenthood

Every since NBC debuted its hour-long drama, Parenthood, people in Berkeley have pointed out all the ways it’s not, well, Berkeley.

Complaints are many. There are too many white characters, and not enough people of color. No one is gay. There are too few Priuses in the show, and not nearly enough Peet’s Coffees. That high school in the series looks nothing like Berkeley High. And how in the world can the parents afford that sprawling Craftsman-style house that appears to be surrounded by a half-acre of land? (Well, for one, it’s really located on the back lot of Universal Studios.)

Chuck Barney, the television critic for the Contra Costa Times, is down in Los Angeles this week for the annual TV critic’s summer press tour. He got a chance to speak with Lawrence Trilling, an executive producer, about the “Berkeleyness” of the show.

“We want to be accurate,” Trilling told Barney for an article in the Contra Costa Times. “We want to reflect the local flavor and the diversity and open-mindedness of the community. Some people tell us that we’re doing a good job. Others don’t think so.”

The producers have been using special effects to make the show feel more like Berkeley, said Barney. For example, last season, there was a shot of two of the main characters on the UC Berkeley campus. Well, those actors never set foot at Cal. A film crew came up from Los Angeles and shot footage of the campus, according to Barney. The producers then filmed the actors in front of a green screen and digitally inserted them in the shot. Voila! They looked like they were standing in front of Wheeler Hall.

Berkeleyside wanted to know more about the “Berkeleyness” of Parenthood and through a little investigative reporting, located Barney as he navigated his press junket. (Okay, we sent him an email.)

“I don’t get the feeling that capturing the true flavor of Berkeley is real high on their priority list,” Barney emailed Berkeleyside. “I asked, for example, if he had any Bay Area natives on the writing team and he didn’t think they did. At one point, a set designer giving the tour talked about the Craftsman bungalow being in Marin and I corrected her, saying it’s Berkeley … And another producer talked about how they designed the shoe factory after an actual building in LA. I asked him how hard would it have been to design it after an actual building in the Bay Area and he just kind of shrugged. (I will say, though, that the sets do have a real Bay Area flavor to them. They “scouted” the Bay Area before building them — and the house boat is designed after an actual houseboat in Sausalito).

Before the first season started, I talked to executive producer Jason Katims, who had a lot of good things to say about how they wanted to reflect the Berkeley/East Bay because it has a very different look and vibe than what we’re used to seeing on TV. Obviously, though, there are limits to what they can do without being here — or from here. It’s ironic because Katims is also involved with “Friday Night Lights,” which is filmed in Austin, Tx. and does have a very distinct Texas feel to it. I think they believe that, in most cases, there are SoCal sites that can stand in for Berkeley/the E. Bay) … I don’t know if I’m completely accurate her, but I don’t even think it was Katims’ idea to base the show in Berkeley. I think that came from an NBC exec — can’t recall her name right now — who either went to Cal, or had a daughter who went to Cal.”

Still, Barney points out, maybe Berkeley residents ought to be grateful for what they have:

“Mark it down as a wasted opportunity. It’s not very often, after all, that the East Bay gets to shine in prime time. Yes, a “Parenthood” film crew will occasionally drop by this season, says Trilling, but only to shoot exteriors. ….

On the other hand, maybe we should just be glad the show is returning this fall. Early ratings, after all, were mediocre, and for a while there, “Parenthood” looked like a goner.”

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  • tizzielish

    I am surprised this post does not state that the series was originally set in Oakland, but changed to Berkeley. There is a statement in this berkeleyside post about someone’s daughter suggesting Berkeley but the creators of this show were already in the East Bay before it became Berkeley.

    They had a scene, in the first or second episode of the two brothers having lunch at Oscar’s. It was definitely shot at Oscar’s: you see the right view past the brothers eating plus I asked one of the cooks at Oscar’s.

    They don’t have to shoot in Berkeley to make it more like Berkeley. As this post points out, more people of color and some gays would make it more Berkeley and more East Bay.

    I have only lived in Berkeley 1.5 years so I don’t have an old timers’ perspective but I think they do a pretty good job catching some of Berkeley’s quirkiness. I don’t think they need to shoot here. So what if they show Wheeler but shot the actors on green screen? or that the house is on a set? That house looks like a lot of houses here, right? As to the house being very expensive, gee, I know many who live in Berkeley who scored big expensives houses because of inheritance, because of having bought long ago and traded up before the market went insane . .

    What is a racial breakdown of Berkeley citizens? Are there any Asian characters on the show? Or how about an Indian immigrant or any immigrants. There are a whole lot of immigrants in the East Bay — it’s one great thing about it here — and on the show, white white white

  • Elisabeth

    I am baffled by Barney’s comment “we should just be glad the show is returning this fall.” I am not glad. I found this show unbearable to watch. In part, the script is just poor and the characters unsympathetic. The main reason that I had to just give up on it was their utter failure in accurately portraying my community. The only people I’ve ever met in Berkeley that remind me of these characters were transplants from somewhere else. Berkeleyans are primarily portrayed in this show as a-intellectual, Type-A, social-climbers more concerned with appearance than substance.

    For instance, The main couple’s reaction to their son being diagnosed with Asberger’s Syndrome was improbable. Folks in B-town are pretty well-versed in social-emotional disorders and they would have likely had some exposure/awareness of the disorder. I understand this being a very difficult reality for a family to face, but this family seemed less concerned with how their son was doing than with how his behavior made them look. They were downright despondent over his always wanting to dress like a pirate. God forbid the kid find some strength through self-expression. And dressing like a pirate? Please. In Berkeley, that puts you pretty close to the fashion mean. The family doesn’t cheer up until the kid FINALLY demonstrates some interest in playing Little League. Oy vey.

    Then the school’s response to their son’s behavior was so intolerant and unsympathetic that it seemed right out of the 50’s. I was surprised that BUSD didn’t react with protest over the use of the Cragmont facade after the school staff were portrayed as criminally negligent in dealing with the boy’s special needs.

    The range of careers portrayed is improbable as well. In the main family, you see a shoe manufacturer, attorney, and sound engineer. It would have been more realistic to have at least one therapist or associate professor or someone working in non-profit of some kind. This is Berkeley, where the per capita number of people in do-gooder jobs is statistically above average. It just makes it so hard to believe that this is truly my town. I think they have succeeded in creating a vibe that is 50% Marin, 50% L.A. But Berkeley-like? Hardly.

    After one character complained about her brother always wanting to sit in front of the air conditioner, I just had to turn it off. I would prefer that we not be portrayed at all than have this inaccurate account of us be out there, misinforming the rest of the country.

  • Pingback: Berkeley Girl transplanted to SoCal | Berkeleyside

  • Pingback: Parenthood works to up the Berkeley content | Berkeleyside

  • josef schreick

    hi – what is the email for the producers of parenthood? i would like to email them and cannot find anything on the web. thanks

  • Jeanette Howard

    It drives me crazy that Parenthood pretends to be set in the Bay Area. There is absolutely nothing Bay Area about it. The vegetation, houses, streets, ocean are all wrong. I assumed it was actually shot somewhere in the Northwest and am surprised to read here that it is shot in Los Angeles. Just seems that given how much effort is made with the dialogue to say they are in the Bay Area that some effort could have been made to actually shoot it in the Bay Area. It would be better if no reference to place is made at all. The place shown is so not where they say they are that it is confusing and actually disconcerting.

  • TV watcher in LA

    this show is insulting to both people in LA and in Berkeley. I used to live in Berkeley and now live in SoCal so i’m pretty familiar with both areas. In fact, the show is filmed in South Pasadena (where I currently live) and Alhambra and other parts of LA. they should have just had the family be from LA. the whole berkeley “location” but filmed in LA just makes the show really inauthentic especially b/c the show emphasizes the whole berkeley thing. when they’re supposed to be on telegraph but they’re clearly on franklin at the bourgeois pig in hollywood, it makes me ask “do you really think i’m that dumb?” ok, the rest of the country might not see it but the vegetation, the style of homes, the streets are all clearly LA. they should just have filmed the outside shots (landmark shots) in berkeley. it’s not the first show to be set in a location where it’s not filmed in but they do a really poor job with it.

  • Vickie

    I really want this tv show of Parenthood to be off the air

  • Ishraqiyun77

    Namely, because Berkeley is a total dump. Film anywhere except Solano Ave, maybe, or the hills, and you’re going to have nothing but homeless people, drug addicts, run down houses, crumbling streets, graffiti, etc, etc, etc… The people of Berkeley should be happy: if they filmed here, people all over would know just how much of a dump it is here. Someone mentioned Berkeley High: do really want the real Berkeley High shown… just going to make us look like a 3rd world country to who ever watches the show… or worse yet, Oakland or Richmond.

    They seriously filmed at Oscar’s? It might be a staple of Berkeley given how long they have been around, but their food is just awful; much like most of Berkeley.

  • http://www.davosnewbies.com lknobel

    And you’re reading Berkeleyside because…

    I think they could film at Berkeley High without anyone blushing. Similarly in many other places in Berkeley. Not everything is quite as sanitized as the world on NBC, but when was TV a reflection of reality?

    If you’re a Berkeley hater, this isn’t the right site for you.

  • TDSide

    I feel like maybe people don’t understand the entertainment business. Very few shows and films (all though more so, with films) shoot in the place they take place. This is not some kind of affront to Berkeley. They did shoot the pilot in the Bay Area. And in terms of the demographics, you have to remember that this show isn’t about Berkeley – it’s not about a “group of people, hanging out, experiencing Berkeley” it’s about a family. Berkeley just happened to be the setting the chose, my guess is because of it’s general lightness of California, that it’s a little more residential than LA, and because the grandparents of the family are very … open. Even hippie-esque at times. But like I said, it isn’t about Berkeley. It’s about the people. And Berkelians should know that this is not an insult. It’s not an insult that they are set in Berkeley but don’t shoot there. It’s pretty normal. 

  • Joyluna

    I deliberately watch this show because I think it is hilarious how not-Berkeley it is.  That being said, the most recent episode I watched had a student from Cal wearing a RED UC Berkeley t-shirt.  Come on.  Seriously, how hard is it to buy a t-shirt that is blue and gold.  

  • The_Xander_Crews

    Fans of the show don’t give a rat’s @ss about how accurately the “people of Berkeley” are portrayed. As another poster said, it’s not about “the people of Berkley”. It’s about a family who happens to be based in Berkeley.

    Besides, not every family in Berkeley fits the “Berkeley Mold”. I’m not sure why you feel that way.

    Parenthood is a great show. Nobody cares (except for a few folks in and around Berkeley apparently) that a particular restaurant isn’t on the right street, or the vegetation isn’t quite right…are you kidding me?

    It’s a good show folks. Don’t get hung up on the stuff nobody cares about.

  • The_Xander_Crews

    Really?

    “The place shown is so not where they say they are that it is confusing and actually disconcerting.”

    Really?
    It’s a TV show. You’ll get over it.

  • The_Xander_Crews

    I’m not sure why anyone cares. It’s a TV show…and a good one. Nobody (except a few folks in Berkeley apparently) cares if the vegetation or demographics aren’t quite right. The Truth is, few shows are filmed in the same town they are based. It’s about a specific family, not Berkeley. It’s not a documentary on Berkeley…that’s not what the show is about. Folks who are complaining, don’t get that at all.

  • L Blake

    Although I love the show, I was born and raised in Oakland and often get upset that because it is filmed in LA…It miss represents the real people and the true look of the Bay Area!