Raleigh native takes on TV with ‘The Goodwin Games’

After spending the last decade helming major, big-screen comedies, Raleigh-born filmmaker Peyton Reed decided to go back to what he started doing: directing comedy for the small screen.

Reed, who has directed such films as the Kirsten Dunst cheerleader comedy “Bring It On” and the Jim Carrey vehicle “Yes Man,” was looking for a TV pilot he could direct about a year or so ago. After shooting several episodes last season for Fox’s hit comedy “New Girl,” Reed, who got his start directing Disney TV-movie remakes such as “The Love Bug” and sketch-comedy shows such as “Mr. Show with Bob and David,” got the itch to be involved with a project from the ground floor. That’s when he came across a sitcom script called “The Goodwin Games.”

“What I liked about the script was it wasn’t just sort of a standard kind of a comedy about 20-somethings or people having dating wars and that kind of thing,” says Reed, 48, on the phone from Los Angeles. “It was a really plot-driven, half-hour comedy, and I found it kind of oddball.”

Co-created by “How I Met Your Mother” creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas, “Games” (airing Monday night at 8:30 on Fox 50) tells the story of a trio of siblings – workaholic doctor Henry (Scott Foley), struggling actress Chloe (Becki Newton) and simple-minded ex-con Jimmy (T.J. Miller) – who return to their hometown after their father (Beau Bridges) has passed away. Through the magic of videotapes, their father instructs them that to get their inheritance, which turns out to be a whopping $23 million, they have to go through a series of games and challenges and compete against one another, something the old man used to put them through when they were kids.

After Fox picked up “Goodwin” last May as a midseason replacement, the pilot was soon reshot, with several actors replaced (Miller’s character was originally played by another guy) and several storylines re-tweaked (Newton’s character originally worked as a cocktail waitress). “There were a couple of things that they wanted done differently, and then there were a couple of things that we thought would do better as well,” Reed says. “So, since they were giving us the money, we had the opportunity to reshoot it.”

Another thing that changed was the number of episodes “Goodwin” was supposed to air. In its initial pickup, the show would run for 13 episodes. Last November, the order was cut to seven. Reed blames that on the network’s ongoing issues with sitcoms.

“Well, I think it’s been widely publicized – and particularly by [Fox Chairman] Kevin Reilly himself – that Fox really struggled last year with comedy,” he says.

“Even ‘New Girl,’ which was sort of their flagship comedy show, was not pulling in the ratings that everyone hoped they would pull in. And shows like ‘The Mindy Project’ were pulling in really low ratings and they stuck with that show. … So, really, by the time we were starting to shoot, midway through our shooting, the writing was kind of on the wall that that Tuesday night comedy block was not such a success.

“I think it’s a really tricky time in network TV – particularly, like, comedy in network TV,” he says. “You know, is it better to be single-camera or multicamera, or female- or male-driven? I mean, it’s a really interesting and chaotic time, particularly at Fox.”

Regardless of where the future lies with the show – it’s certainly not a good sign that Bridges has moved on to play Will Arnett’s dad in the upcoming CBS sitcom “The Millers” this fall – Reed has enjoyed serving as a mentor not just to the writers and producers but also to the actors. (He particularly enjoyed working with Winston-Salem-born comic Jerrod Carmichael, who plays Elijah, a mysterious figure who gets summoned to play along with the siblings.)

Reed hopes people will give the show a chance. “I think we just want people to sort of watch the show and laugh and hopefully get caught up in the show, in terms of who’s gonna get the inheritance,” he says.

“But, also, there are a lot of unfolding mysteries that happen in the show – you know, the mysteries about the siblings, and then also the different surprise elements that pop up. … So, I think that would be our thing – that people get really caught up in the mystery.”

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