The remake of Norman Lear’s 1975 hit series One Day at a Time premieres January 6 on Netflix, and at its helm is LMU instructor and alumna Gloria Calderon Kellett ‘97, co-showrunner and executive producer for the series. The reboot features three generations of a Cuban-American family living under one roof, a twist that Calderon Kellett, drawing from her own Cuban-American family, brought to the series. But she also brought something else of note: four former students and recent LMU alumni to work on the show.
It was serendipitous how Calderon Kellett found herself working alongside TV legend Norman Lear. After a decade of trying it all — amassing writing and producing credits on hit shows like How I Met Your Mother, Rules of Engagement, Devious Maids and Mixology — she decided she wanted to try to do something more personal.
“The stars aligned because as soon as I put that out there, I was set to meet with Norman,” says Calderon Kellett. “He had been flirting with the idea of doing a Latinx remake of his 1975 classic. He had Mike Royce, co-showrunner and writer, onboard and asked if I would be interested. The answer was ‘YES!’”
Lear said about their chance encounter, “I met Gloria in one of my luckier moments. Despite our quite dissimilar ages and beginnings, we quickly recognized our common humanity and in a matter of minutes we were laughing together. Make me laugh and you’ve added time to my life, I’m sure. Thank you, Gloria.”
When it came time to staff the writers room, Calderon Kellett recruited her former LMU students: writers Michelle Badillo (SCRW ’13) and Caroline Levich (SCRW ’14), writer’s PA Suehee Chang (WPTV ’15) and production assistant Bernard Badion (WPTV ’15).
Badillo and Levich first met in Calderon Kellett’s undergraduate screenwriting class after she paired them together as a writing team. The two continued as writing partners, and had no idea that years later this relationship would see itself into their very first writers room on a Netflix reboot, ran by their former professor.
“Gloria helped me get a production assistant job right after graduation,” recalled Levich. “Two years later, she called and asked if I was still writing with my writing partner, Michelle, as One Day at a Time was looking for a young team of writers. When she asked that we send in samples, I literally walked off my job at the time to find a computer to send them to her. My boss was not pleased, but from there we got a staff meeting, and we got the job.”
Over the years, Calderon Kellett has helped former students find positions in the industry. “When I teach a student at LMU, and I see in them someone who is not just talented but hardworking and ready to take on the challenge of being ‘out there,’ it is exciting. I know that, hopefully, I can be of help, which is the case with the four students that I hired. The timing and the show were a good fit. These are all comedy writers. I know and trust them. I’ve seen them work hard, and I knew they wouldn’t let me down,” she said, adding, “I love seeing them daily.”
Besides working with each other and their former instructor, the alumni had the chance to learn from and collaborate with some of the hardest working professionals in television. “I really got to see the nuts and the bolts of the show come together during the week and then know how everything we did contributed to show night. It’s a lot of work, but when you’re around great people it goes fast!” said Badion.
“There is nothing like being in the writers room,” said Badillo. “I’d always thought I was the height of funny, right up until I spent all day every day in a room with people who had 30 years of being professionally funny on me.”
And what was it like to work with trailblazer Norman Lear?
“Incredible,” said Calderon Kellett, “Norman is 94 years old and is still so curious about people.”
“The best part about working with Norman is witnessing his generosity and humility despite being a legend! He eats salads like the rest of us,” said Chang.
“It was constantly a ‘pinch me’ situation with Norman,” recalled Levich.
Calderon Kellett’s advice to students looking to make it into the writers room is this: “Make your own magic. Write and write and write and write. Find your own way in. Don’t wait for someone to open the door for you. Find a window.”
Lear added, “The best advice anyone ever gave to a writer was given by the celebrated playwright, George S. Kaufman. He said, ‘Write!'”
One Day at a Time premieres January 6, 2017 on Netflix.