It usually takes two years after a broadcast series becomes a big hit for similar-themed shows to begin popping up on rival networks.
And right on schedule, one of ABC’s new fall dramas, A Million Little Things, seems to have a lot in common with NBC’s breakout hit from 2016, This Is Us. Both shows feature a large, intertwined cast, tear-jerking moments, unfold in multiple time periods and include one main character who is deceased in the present day.
When buyers reflected on May’s broadcast upfronts with Adweek, several noted that they were intrigued by A Million Little Things precisely because of its similarities to This Is Us.
But creator DJ Nash said his new drama was inspired not by the NBC hit, but The Big Chill, the 1983 film in which a longtime group of friends assemble after one of them dies by suicide. In A Million Little Things, the characters also gather after a suicide early in the pilot.
“I had the idea for the show before This Is Us was on the air. But certainly what Dan [Fogelman, that show’s creator] and everyone over there has done has paved the way for this,” Nash said Monday at the Television Critics Association’s summer press tour in Los Angeles.
“This Is Us is an incredibly successful show, and thank you to This Is Us for proving that there is an audience for stories about just everyday life and humans going through things,” added executive producer James Griffiths. “The comparison stops there, though, because our show is a very unique, different show.”
Nash, who loosely based the series on his own personal experience after a friend’s unexpected death, said The Big Chill is a movie that has stuck with him for decades.
“I watched The Big Chill before I should have been allowed to. It really influenced my life,” he said. “The way we differ is, in The Big Chill, after [the character] Alex died, everyone went home. Here, we’re going to stay, and we’re going to watch the transformation that takes place.”
The creator and his writers are taking precautions with how they present the topic of suicide to viewers.
“I think there is absolutely nothing romantic about suicide and I worry about every single person who is suicidal,” Nash said. “A couple of [my writers] had firsthand experience with losing a loved one to suicide, so it’s in our room every day, and it certainly was in our room the week of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain passing. It is something we take unbelievably seriously. We have consultants who work on the show to make sure we’re … not romanticizing the story, but telling the story in an authentic way.”
To that end, Nash has filmed a PSA with some cast members that will air immediately after the show premieres on Wednesday, Sept. 26.
Despite the pilot’s dark subject matter, A Million Little Things will have plenty of humor, too.
“Just when you think you can’t laugh about something, that’s exactly when you have to laugh about something,” said Nash. “I went to a funeral yesterday. It was unbelievably sad, but I laughed a ton because you need that in life. Just when you think you can’t take any more, the world gives you a reason to laugh. You just have to be open to it.”