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Official Article

A Talk With Adam F. Goldberg

2017 Introduction: This article was originally published in 2016, but went offline when the site crashed. Thankfully, I still had the corrections backed up, so here's the acclaimed interview again.

2016 Introduction: Hello, everybody. It's Caps 2.0. I'm sure many of you know my writing from RetroJunk. I stopped writing for them in 2013, and am now plying my trade over at Pop Geeks, where I'm writing under the name Johnny Caps. Even though I've kept busy there, Vaporman87, the founder of this fine site, asked me in 2015 if I would be interested in interviewing Adam F. Goldberg, the creator of the popular ABC 80s-set sitcom The Goldbergs.


In addition to producing this popular sitcom, Mr. Goldberg has also written a TV movie for The Muppets (The Muppets' Wizard Of Oz) and a movie about efforts to see Star Wars: Episode I (Fanboys), on top of an extensive list of producing credits for documentaries on retro entertainments and products ranging from the Garbage Pail Kids to Back To The Future. Speaking of which, Vaporman87, or as I know him, Tony, was able to land a conversation with Mr. Goldberg via pledging to the Kickstarter for a Back To The Future documentary called Back In Time. He passed that on to me. I spoke to Mr. Goldberg on January 19th, 2016, and I hope you all enjoy getting to know him.

Say hello to Adam F. Goldberg!


Caps: Hello, Mr. Goldberg. Johnny Caps of Retro-Daze here.

Adam: Hi. How are you doing?

Caps: I'm doing good. I have my questions ready to go.

Adam: Fantastic.

Caps: To start off with, what inspired you towards a career as a film and TV writer?

Adam: Good question. As seen on the show with the character of Adam, which is me, from a young age I was obsessed with Spielberg and George Lucas and making movies, much like a lot of kids of the 80s. I didn't really excel in school.  Just being creative was something that always interested me, so when I was 8 years old, I wrote my first Transformers script. It was just something I've always wanted to do since I was a boy, so it was kind of like a childhood dream fulfilled.

Caps: Okay. In 2005, you wrote the TV movie The Muppets' Wizard Of Oz, one of the first Muppet projects made after Disney landed control of the franchise. As you had grown up with the Muppets being popular, what was it like to write for them?

Adam: That was just one of those dream jobs. At the time, I was a very low-level writer on a multi-cam sitcom for CBS called Still Standing. One of the writers there, Tom Martin, had connections with the Henson company, so I basically begged him to get us in the room and  pitch on The Wizard of Oz. I'm a lifelong Muppet fanatic, and I'm very well-versed in Jim Henson’s work.  After months of begging Tom, he finally said "Okay, you really want to do this? Let's do this!". I went in to the Henson Company with an experienced writer. I and they loved my enthusiasm.  We somehow got the job!  I was probably 26 years old when we had our table read. Seeing all of the actors say your lines, to write lines for Kermit and the gang...It's up there as one of the top three experiences I've had as a writer. To write lines that Gonzo and Fozzie say...That's just mind blowing.


Caps: Cool. One of your earlier nostalgia-related projects was not for the 80s, but for the 90s. To be specific, I'm talking about the Star Wars: Episode 1-themed Fanboys. How much of a Star Wars fan were you before signing on to the project?

Adam: I would say as big as they get.  I met the director, Kyle Newman, in college. We would sit in our dorm room and watch Star Wars and geek out over it. Kyle and I just had this connection, and Star Wars was basically a religion to us. When we got out of college, he connected with a bunch of people trying to make Fanboys and they needed script help, so he came to me to join in on the fun. Again, my career has kind of been just exploring things that I'm incredibly passionate about. Most of it connects to my youth, and that movie was a way for me to write my own version of Star Wars. A bunch of friends go on an adventure and Star Wars plays out for them, so that was just a way for me to recreate Star Wars with a bunch of twentysomething slackers.


Caps: I see. Some say Fanboys was heavily messed up by Harvey Weinstein, who has a reputation in Hollywood as both a man with intelligence and taste, and a man who messes up films and haunts creative personnel even on their deathbeds. Which Weinstein did you experience when writing Fanboys?

Adam: Harvey was the only one who recognized that this was a movie that people would enjoy and want to see. We had some other offers in the beginning, but he came in really strong.  We essentially made a drama.  He saw Superbad and Knocked Up and wanted our movie to be more of an all-out comedy. After all, we had Seth Rogen, Kristen Bell from Saving Sarah Marshall and the genius Jay Baruchel. We had everyone in that Judd Camp and he tried to make our movie something it wasn’t because he knew that would be a way easier sell.  He’s right, too.  A straight ahead comedy is much easier for Harvey for sell instead of a geeky dramady. Harvey even hired Judd’s producer and Steve Brill who just directed Judd’s movie Drillbit Taylor to reshoot Fanboys without us.  Obviously, Judd Apatow’s team knows how to make movies… it’s just not the movie we intended.   It was a long, frustrating process. At the end of the day, Harvey hired us to restore some of the original vision. The end result was a kind of Frankenstein monster.  I know that now it's kind of a cult movie. It has its' moments. We all see the possibilities there, but we still talk about what it could’ve been. We always talk about doing a sequel or a TV show led by the brilliant Dan Fogler.   Not that so much time has passed, we've forgotten all of the frustration and now we look at it as something we're really proud of. Most importantly, for my friend, it is the first professional thing we did. Me, Kyle Newman, Dan Fogler and Ernie Cline, who wrote Ready Player One...That movie started our careers.

Caps: I see. We now come to the main reason why I was requested to do this interview, that reason being your sitcom The Goldbergs. When writing episodes of it, do you look back at the 80s and say things like "This is stupid" and "What were my family and I thinking?", or do you say things like "This was awesome" and "This reminds me of some great times with my family"?

Adam: When I initially conceived the show, I had something very specific in mind -- "This is an expose of my family, of how crazy we are and  the stupid decisions we made”.  The pilot was incredibly polarizing. I realized I was on ABC, which was Disney. I was airing The Middle and Modern Family, so I shifted the tone of the entire show after the pilot.  I decided to really embrace nostalgia feeling and make it more of a show like The Wonder Years. These are years we look back on as if they were perfect. A lot of the flaws we don't remember...Specific dates we don't remember. It's just straight-up remembering the glory days. The show ultimately isn’t about my crazy, loud dysfunctional family. It's about ALL our families, and I wanted to make it as universal and relatable as possible. I think initially I started out with a more jaded outlook of what I wanted to do, and then I made it more of a fantasy.

Caps: Okay. Since The Goldbergs is based, with some exaggerations, on your childhood from 1980 to 1989, was there any thought given to having multiple actors play the young Adam as opposed to Sean Giambrone solo?

Adam: No, there really wasn't. I think that it would just be really confusing to have different actors playing the same part. Frankly, Sean's growing up and when you look at those first episodes and then look at him now... he's like a totally different person. I never really imagined it that way. I designed the entire concept of the show as around "1980something" because it was just a way for me to tell the best stories possible. It’s not a documentary about the 80s.  If someone wants to watch something reality-based, a half-hour network family comedy probably isn't the best way to do that. I never wanted to do Mad Men. I never wanted to make The Americans. Those are hour-long dramas that explore the time period year to year. I just wanted to do a fun kind of romp about growing up and what I remembered through kind of the haze of looking back at the good ol’ days. I believe that's the reason the show is still on the air.


Caps: Okay. Many people, when creating fiction set in the 80s, seem to feel that the early 90s were the 80s as well, and so they'll include references to Pretty Woman and Wilson Phillips and pop-cultural items like that. Why is the idea that the early 90s were still the 80s such a popular notion, and have you ever been asked to include early 90s elements in episodes of The Goldbergs?

Adam: No. There's a lot of movies and songs I love that are from the first months of 1990, and I'd love to use them… but I don’t.  I can’t.  I have ONE rule and that is stay in the 80s. We've made some costuming mistakes that have slipped into 1990 by accident, but as far as storylines go, everything is from 1980 to 1989.   I think a lot of people say that the early 80s was still the 70s and the early 90s was still the 80s. My rule for the show is 80 to 89, and if I ever decide down the line to go into 1990something, then it's 1990 to 1999. Those are the rules of the show that we stick to. There'll be something we love from 1990 and we just can't use it. It's off limits.
I think the only time we really legitimately messed up was when we used the wrong Neil Diamond Christmas song. We'd been given the wrong intel from our researcher, and we accidentally used a Neil Diamond song from 1990. There was one from the 80s we meant to use, and it just slipped through the cracks. That was the only time I feel we legitimately blew it. 

Caps: I see. On a lighter note, since Wendi McLendon-Covey, Jeff Garlin and George Segal were all adults in the 80s, have they ever offered up their own experiences in the decade as ideas for your scripts?

Adam: Definitely, and they've given ideas on either how they're raising kids or how they were raised in the 80s, which is what we have incorporated. Jeff mostly comments about my musical tastes, which he just can't stand. I mean, I've put Martika and Chicago and Toto on the show!  They’re the best!   This kind of pop music he hates. He's more of an indie guy in terms of his musical tastes. He says my musical tastes are from the mid-to-late-80s, because I went to camp and those were the mix tapes I got. Jeff is always pushing really cool 80s bands that I probably don't know of. He's pushing those on me.  I think he's right about that.


Caps: I see. Usually with post-80s projects set in the 80s, the creators try to get stars from the decade to make cameos in their projects. Apart from an appearance by Charlie Sheen in the episode that spoofed Ferris Bueller's Day Off, your show hasn't exactly had that many cameos from people who did significant work in the decade, so what 5 80s personalities would you most like to get to make cameos in future seasons of the show?

Adam: It's awesome you've noticed that, because any story has to really be from my life.  I grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, so we didn't have any access to celebrities. We've thought of some great ideas of how to incorporate celebrities, but at the end of the day, I go "Well, it didn't really happen to me”. . For our Charlie Sheen cameo, I was just recreating Ferris Bueller that particular episode. I wanted to redo that scene, so I made this big exception. As for the five stars, the five most influential people from the 80s for me would be Steven Spielberg, Jon Bon Jovi, "Weird" Al Yankovic, the entire cast of The Goonies, if that's okay. That's more than one person, but that would be amazing, and Harrison Ford. He's Indiana Jones. He's Deckard from Blade Runner. He's Han Solo. He covers it all. (Author's note: This interview was done before it was announced that "Weird" Al Yankovic would be making an appearance on The Goldbergs, as seen on Yankovic's Facebook page.)

Caps: On a similar tack, with the recent flurry of deaths of retro personalities, were there any talents you were hoping to have on The Goldbergs before their passing?

Adam:  I think the only person I would've loved to have was The Ultimate Warrior, whom I ended up dedicating an episode to. I always wanted to do a WWF-themed episode, and it was in the pipeline. This happened Season 1, so I think we were still doing the first 15 even, and he had passed away. My brother was Hulk Hogan and I was The Ultimate Warrior when we would wrestle as kids. We were toying around with the idea of maybe they go to Wrestlemania and go backstage. I had all of these fantasies of a scene filled with the legends. We'd get Hulk Hogan and Ultimate Warrior. Warrior passed away, and so I ended up changing the idea for the WWF episode, and dedicating the episode to him. That's probably the only one so far.

Caps: Okay. When writing promos for The Goldbergs, have you ever thought, since the show airs on ABC, to do promos for the show themed to 80s ABC promotional campaigns like "Now Is The Time, ABC Is The Place" or "Something's Happening On ABC"?

Adam: Well, it's funny. I've never written a promo. They have a whole promo department. I've been really happy with what they've written. I think the strongest one they've done was the Ferris Buller commercial that aired at the Oscars last year. That made a really big difference for our ratings and it was really well done. They hired Ben Stein to recreate the Bueller moment at the chalkboard. I think the promo department cannot do any better than that. That is as good as it gets. The way it works with a TV show is you just sit back and watch other episodes, and hope that your promo comes on. It is what it is. ABC is really good at promoting the show. I think they lean into the 80s a lot just because it's a really good selling point.

Caps: Okay. With The Goldbergs being set in the 80s, and fellow ABC sitcom Fresh Off The Boat being set in the 90s, do you think there could ever be a sitcom set in the 00s, or did the decade not have a unique look to it?

Adam: That's a fantastic question. Sometimes I think that 1999 was too recent.  I think about 30 years has to pass for the nostalgia to kick in. The 80s are definitely being explored right now, just like 10 years with the 70s with That 70s Show, and before that, The Wonder Years with the 60s. It seems like there is a certain time period for the nostalgia to kick in, and if you're setting something in, like, 2002...Maybe there could be a movie set around Y2K, just because that's such an absurd idea. Other than that, I don't even know what I would do.

Caps: I see. On a different tack, Tony, the owner of Retro-Daze, got to know you through contributing to the Kickstarter campaign for the Back To The Future documentary Back In Time. You produced not only that documentary, but also another one still in production called Back To Our Future. As 2015 marked the 30th anniversary of the original Back To The Future, what do you think has made that movie such a touchstone for audiences of all ages?

Adam: That's another fantastic question! For me, Back To The Future is just a perfect movie. It's timeless. It's funny. It's dramatic. It has heart. It's everything that a movie should be, and I think it just speaks to so many people because it was just such a phenomenal idea, perfectly executed. Also, it really encapsulates the 80s. Even though they were going to the past and going to the future, it really is a time capsule of the 80s and what was great about the decade. The fact that it was a perfect movie that had something for everyone… it made such an impact on us.  Time has gone by so fast and the future is here. I think that's why it's come back so much. We're now living in the time that movie was exploring, and there's a lot of similarities and a lot of differences The great thing about doing that documentary was I really understood what the movie means to so many people. That movie has saved lives, and been a lifeline for so many people. It's great that it's around today.

Caps: I definitely agree. As you're running a popular show, what's your idea of the perfect day off?

Adam: A perfect day off would probably be a massage and napping and hanging with my family, because all day long I’m just fielding questions and talking and making decisions.

Caps: Okay. Now we come to my final question. This is the one I've ended practically every interview with since I started doing them a decade ago, and it's this: If you could go back to your youth with the knowledge that you have now, would you do anything differently?

Adam: I would, and I think I would tell myself "it's okay to be a geek", because my whole childhood was about fighting my interests, trying to be something I wasn’t and fighting insecurity.  I didn’t play sports.  I had a lazy-eye.  I loved cartoons and comics. When I really embraced that in college was, I really embraced who I was and that's when I started to become a successful person. I always regret the fact that I was hiding that I loved Star Wars and comics growing up. When I was a kid, there was no Internet. You felt so isolated because you had these interests that no one else did. I think I would've just embraced that a little bit more, and I think I just would've had a happier childhood. Does that make sense?

Caps: It makes sense absolutely. That does it for my questions. I thank you for taking the time out of your schedule to do this.

Adam: You're welcome. I really appreciate that. These were fantastic questions.


2017 Outro: Thank you all again for reading this. This was a fun interview to do. Since 2014, I've been writing over at Pop Geeks, where I've continued doing my celebrity interviews and articles about retro pop culture, as well as the occasional newer item. A brief warning: Unlike RetroDaze, a lot of my articles have adult content...No nudity, but lots of discussion about adult topics and frequent use of adult language. Needless to say, an NSFW warning is in effect:

Thanks for reading, and for all your support, both in my RetroJunk writing days and the current day.

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Caps 2.0 Posted on Aug 10, 2019 at 12:33 AM

I'm sorry you didn't like the interview, Casey. If I may explain something, though, those verbal tics you pointed out are a result of Asperger's Syndrome. Many people like myself on the spectrum had those tics.

Also, if my questions seemed too prepared and it seemed like I was in a rush to you, it's because, in all honesty, I didn't have the familiarity with Adam's work that I do with most of the other talents I've been fortunate enough to interview over the years.

CaseyJones Posted on Feb 08, 2018 at 05:46 PM

It was ok. But you shouldn't be starting each question with ("cool" "I see" "ok") and then jumping into your next prepared question. You should be asking follow up questions to some of these answers. Show that you have interest in what he is saying rather than just trying to get the interview done. Plus some of his answers were really interesting and I would have liked to read more. I mean he talked about Harvey Weinstein almost stealing Fanboys from him and all you said was "ok" and then started talking about The Goldbergs.

OldSchool80s Posted on Aug 07, 2017 at 02:04 AM

Glad to have it back up.

NLogan Posted on Aug 06, 2017 at 04:14 PM

Alright back up in style.

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