How ABC’s The Goldbergs Recreated the Vet
The show recreated the stands, the concourses, the concession stands, the bathrooms, etc. But the show almost never happened.
Goldberg spoke with MLB.com recently about the episode, being a Phillies fan and more.
Click here to read the story, which includes a couple clips from Wednesday’s episode.
Q: So why did you want to have a Phillies/Vet episode?
A: The Goldbergs is completely autobiographical about my life growing up in the ‘80s in Philadelphia. Every day in the writers’ room, we just talk about stories from our childhood and things that mattered to us. I grew up in a sports family. As you see in the show, I wasn’t athletic. But my brother was. My dad was an athlete. I was the black sheep. But that didn’t stop me from being dragged to Phillies games, Eagles games. We had Flyers season tickets. So sports are a big part of my family and growing up. Some of my best memories were going to Phillies games with my dad, going to Veterans Stadium. There was one particular instance where we got separated, and in the ‘80s when you got separated from somebody in a big place without a cell phone there was no way to find them. So I was telling this story about how I went with my dad to a Phillies game and we got separated. And there was this panic you felt because Veterans Stadium was so big and so scary. It was terrifying. It’s really an episode about Adam’s transition into manhood as he learns to survive in Veterans Stadium by himself only to be reunited with his dad at the end.
Q: But I remember seeing on Twitter you couldn’t get script approval.
A: The show is a love letter to the ‘80s, but it’s also a love letter to Philadelphia and a love letter to the sports that I grew up with. So it’s a love letter to all the Philly teams. I’ve done a lot of Flyers stuff. The NHL is really cooperative. Baseball, everybody knows, they’re just tougher. So the interesting thing was, when we approached them they had concerns about the scripts as any franchise would. Be it sports or even when we try to get an ‘80s movie cleared. Everyone wants their property to be portrayed in the right way and they have concerns. And the way it happened was I tweeted my frustrations and the Phillies saw that fans wanted Veterans Stadium to be resurrected so badly. So MLB has been awesome because they’ve decided to stay out of it and leave it in the hands of the Phillies. So now I’m working with the Phillies, which is so cool, to really come up with something that I’m happy with comedically and they’re happy that represents the Phillies in the best way. The other thing that’s amazing that is that it is a comedy and the Phillies were able to have a really good sense of humor about what Veterans Stadium was. So that’s been really cool. I think there’s concerns that naturally, we don’t want the fans to be portrayed in a certain way. So what was explained back that this isn’t about the fans. This is about Veterans Stadium, what that meant to the city and yes it was rough around the edges, but it was a place that people loved. So we’re recreating the stands and the bleachers. We’re recreating the bathrooms. There’s a lot of people from Philly on my show. And those bathrooms. Those giant troughs that you had to pee in with the drunk fans. You’re so crowded in. I remember having stage fright for the first time, having to go so bad, but being so freaked out by the experience I couldn’t go. There was so much. It was so ripe for material. This episode came out so easily because we all have so many experiences going to Phillies games with going to Veterans Stadium.
Q: Did you need to make a significant change to the script?
A: They said no initially because I had hit the one thing … I think there a couple black marks on Philly fans. Listen, Philadelphia fans are famous for being tough. They boo their own team. I had made a joke about and we wrote it very cavalierly because it’s funny that they would throw batteries if they were frustrated. In our Ferris Bueller episode (Feb. 25) when they go to a Phillies game, Barry pulls a Steve Bartman and catches a foul ball and they get batteries thrown at them. And the announcer says, ‘And here come the batteries.’ That one line they were like, ‘Oh, boy. That’s a nonstarter. That’s something we never want to happen again. We don’t want to encourage it.’ And that was just a line that I wrote cavalierly to get some comedy out of the moment. But when I heard that was the concern I was like, Oh, I totally get what you’re saying. We’ll remove it. Frankly, let’s go through the script together. I get it that you guys have to protect and represent the team the best way possible. I don’t want you guys to watch this and be angry with me. So they were like, we’re not going to tell you what to write. We’re going to tell you there are certain things we feel like are off limits. When you have the Phanatic out there, we don’t want to see him with his head off and he’s just hanging out. Like you would never see Jim Henson operating Kermit the Frog. It just is something they would not do. So they have rules, like I have rules for my show. I have stories I would never do, certain things characters would never say. They have the same rules, too. I think it’s just abiding within and being respectful of their rules. And then just do whatever you want.
Q: A few years ago I interviewed Rob McElhenney from It’s Always Sunny. He couldn’t get script clearance because they wanted the Phanatic in an episode, but the Phanatic was beating the crap out of a fan. Naturally, they didn’t go for it.
A: I know Rob really well. I’ve known Rob a long time. I remember that episode. Did they have a knock off?
Q: Yeah, they ended up calling him the Phrenetic. He was slightly different than the authentic Phanatic. I guess there’s a rule about how similar they can be.
A: You can definitely do the knock off. You know it’s a parody. For me, with my show, my goal is to never ever do that. I would never want to not have the Phillies’ approval and be like it’s the Philadelphia Phanmen and have the Phrenetic. I want it to seem legitimate. That’s why I spend so much time that I don’t think a lot of people would writing to Hasbro, writing to all these movie studios, getting the Goonies clips, getting the toys we remember, the games we remember, going to Milton Bradley doing the board game episode, I don’t want to do Funopoly. I want the real thing. I feel like that authenticity is what makes the show. It takes a lot of work because every product you see on the show, every toy, every game, every sports team, it takes months of getting approval. When you’re writing scripts on a Friday and shooting on a Monday, it’s almost impossible, but I have some good relationships now so I can make it happen.
Q: Is it tough to recreate the Vet?
A: Yes. I know I’m going to get crushed because, look, I’m not a movie. We’re shooting everything in two days. A movie would literally go in and create everything from scratch. We are going out here to a fairly run down college football stadium. I’m having them yank out all the seats, put in the seats I remembered. We looked at old photos, putting up the billboards that were there. There are certain things we can do, put Phillies logos everywhere we can. Recreating the bathrooms, that we can recreate. That’s on our stages. But I know I’m going to get tweets and Facebook messages about how they saw an orange seat and they were blue or green. But it’s what I’m working with. At the very least I got approval from the Phillies. They’re being as cooperative as possible. They’re being awesome, and within my budget I’m trying to do as much as I can.
Q: How did you get the Phanatic involved?
A: Once we had the Phillies on board, (Phillies director of marketing and special projects) Michael Harris was like, ‘How can I help?’ I’m like, if we’re doing a story about the Vet and the Phillies and the ‘80s, we want to give a nice shout out to Mike Schmidt and we want to do something with the Phillie Phanatic. I think I was quoted $8,000 to recreate the costume out here. I asked, ‘Is there any way you could send out a costume?’ They were like, ‘We’ll send out the Phanatic.’ So it just shows how much they’re on board and how cooperative they’re being, and how excited they are that … I think they’re seeing that this show is a love letter to everything we grew up with. They’re excited to be part of that, which is very cool.
Q: On the show, Adam is not only unathletic, but he seems to be completely disinterested in sports. You’re saying you would go to games fairly frequently? I mean, did you follow the Phillies at all or did you just go to games?
A: I was never an athlete. (Older brother) Barry got all the athletic genes in the family, which is hilarious because he’s not the greatest athlete in the world. I think he thinks he is, but I definitely was always kind of dragged to these things to spend time with my dad. This was a way that he could connect with us. There was an awesome activity going on, we didn’t have to talk that much and we could cheer and be on the same team. So it was just an easy thing for my dad, who is the dad on the show. He sat in his chair, in his underpants, watched TV, called us morons. Phillies games, Flyers games, Philadelphia sports was the only thing that really brought him true joy. Like I said, he was an athlete. He wanted to go to the NBA when he was younger. That wasn’t my interest. My interest was movies, comics and all that pop culture stuff from the ‘80s, but it was nice to go with my dad. Some of my best memories were going to watch those Phillies games. And even though I didn’t really know all of the players, and my dad would have to tell me what was going on, it was still some of my fondest memories of him. So it always holds a big place in my heart. Now Barry on the other hand arranges his schedule around Philadelphia sports. He’s such a diehard fans of the Phillies and the Eagles and the Flyers, one of the things that he still talks about is when the Phillies were in the World Series in 1980. My dad was in a bad mood and I think punished my brother or something and didn’t take him to the game and he still talks about it to this day, how he had an opportunity to go. He missed an opportunity and he blames my dad. It’s something that he still talks about to this day.
Q: So did you have a favorite Phillies player growing up then?
A: The one sport that really was my sport was hockey. I did that hockey episode, which was completely true. I did score on my own goal. My coach after that episode got back in touch with me and confirmed I was the worst player he ever coached. But I did have an obsession with the Flyers growing up. I grew my hair. I didn’t know it was called a mullet at the time. I called it a hockey player haircut. I grew it like my favorite player Mike Ricci. My obsession was the Flyers in middle school and high school, and Barry was more Eagles and Phillies. I think because when you have a brother you’re always fighting with, if I were like the sports he liked I would also be copying him and a poser. So you go the other way.
Q: You collected all sorts of toys as a kid: Transformers, G.I. Joe. I had all the same type of stuff, but I’m guessing you didn’t have any Starting Lineup?
A: I totally remember Starting Lineup and I had none. I wanted G.I. Joes and Transformers. And WWF. Those big rubber wrestlers. I had some of those. That’s more entertainment than sports, if you will. Barry collected baseball cards. I collected Garbage Pail Kids.
Q: So this is a geeky script question, but there is an episode (in Nov. 2013) where your dad yells, “I hate you Dickie Noles!” It could have been anybody. Why Dickie Noles? (Noles talks about the episode here.)
A: It’s such a funny question. That’s something I remember my dad screaming as he was watching the Phillies. My dad had a bad temper, so he was a yeller. And every time he’d sit home and watch the games I remember him screaming. I remember being a kid and hearing that name and it just stuck out in my head. That’s what I picked it. Everyone in the writers room was like, ‘That is so random.’ The things you remember from when you were a kid. It’s so random that you remember that name vividly of all the Phillies you remember Dickie Noles.
Q: Because you make a lot of Philly references in the show, do you hear back from these people or places?
A: I do. That’s been really cool about the show, having TastyKake reach out to me because I talk about them all the time. The Flyers, the Phillies. The Flyers got me in touch with one of my favorite players growing up, Mike Bullard. They got him to sign a jersey for me. On Twitter … singers, like Tiffany. I got a call. Reaching out to musicians that I’ve always admired and writing them letters. I reached out to Bon Jovi, Peter Gabriel. That’s been awesome getting to interact with all of my heroes growing up. These are people that I’ve worshipped and now I’m tweeting with them or having phone calls with them explaining what the show is or sending them the script. That’s been awesome.
Q: Did you watch any of the 2008 World Series?
A: Sure. The interesting thing about living in LA is everyone comes from somewhere else. I think if you’re from Philadelphia and you’re a fan of the Phillies or the Flyers or the Eagles or the Sixers, no matter where you live you’ll always love those teams. And I love going to a Phillies game out here, going to a Flyers game, bringing my kids now. Half of the crowd are like transplants from that city and the other half are LA fans. It’s really interesting to go games in LA. In Philadelphia you’d get killed wearing the jersey from the other team. It’s a really nice experience in LA because you can still root for your team out here because there are so many people like you from out there.
Q: Did you mom go to games with you at the Vet? I imagine she’d e worried sick about you going to the game by yourself or with your high school friends.
A: That’s amazing. My mom always worried and she still does. She gets on Twitter and gets strangers to tweet me to call her and stuff, which is hilarious. All my mom does is worry. When we went with my dad to Veterans Stadium, of course she was worried that I would get lost. Which was the irony that one day I did get separated from my dad. I don’t think we ever told my mom. She might not even know that story to this day. But you know what? When you’re with your dad there’s that trust there. Yeah, I think it was the most terror I ever felt being separated in Veterans Stadium for most of a Phillies game, running around looking for my dad.
Q: In the Flyers episode you said you never saw the end of a game. Is that true? Did you dad always leave games early?
A: Yes, that’s 100 percent true. My dad was obsessed with traffic. We never ever stayed until the end of the game. As he got older we would leave earlier and earlier. That’s a true story. The real story was Barry was at a game with my dad and the Eagles were losing and my dad got all frustrated and said let’s get out of here. There was so much time left, but he wanted to beat traffic. Then they were on the car ride home and they heard on the radio that Ron Jaworski there like a 99-yard touchdown pass and they won. Barry just lost it and ranted at my dad for the half-hour car ride home. He completely freaked out and had a meltdown about it. We were just recounting funny stories and brought that one up about how dad would always leave early from games because he was obsessed with traffic. And I’m like that is completely an episode.
Q: One last question. My wife and I always talk about this after a show. How many more VHS tapes do you have to use as clips at the end of the show? We’re always like, ‘Is he going to run out at some point?’ That’s such a cool part of the show. You always have clips to show viewers that, yes, this really happened in my family.
A: I really think I can go 150 episodes. When you think about it it’s only 150 clips. I have dozens and dozens of tapes, and I have people sending me tapes now. Penn Charter, they went through their archives and sent me tapes of anything I was in. I think I have enough. The question will be … right now I’m forming stories around the clips. I think at a certain point I won’t have that kind of material anymore, but I’ll always have a little moment or a thing. My dad yells at me in every episode and I have him yelling at me in every tape I have. At the end of the day I should be covered.