Steven Levitan's hit comedy 'Reboot' inspired by doomed 'Roseanne' revival

Written by Anna Buss, produced by Joshua Farnham

Steven Levitan attends the premiere of Hulu's 'Reboot' at the Fox Studio Lot in Los Angeles, on September 19, 2022. Photo by Faye's Vision/Cover Images/REUTERS.

While television veteran Steven Levitan was still running “Modern Family,” ABC canceled in 2018 the revived-1990’s sitcom “Roseanne” following its star Roseanne Barr’s racist tweets, and public clashes with her cast members and the network. 

Seeing the drama unfold in newspapers, Levitan had an epiphany: “To go away for 15 years and have your life, perhaps not turn out the way you thought it would, just seemed like a very ripe comedic situation filled with very eccentric characters, and I thought, ‘That's such a good idea that someone's bound to do it.’” 

When ‘Modern Family’ wrapped up in 2020, no one had thought of his idea, so he says, “I just started thinking about it and digging in.”

He dug in and, inspired by the doomed “Roseanne” revival, he put together a show about showbiz, which morphed into Hulu’s comedy series  “Reboot.” It centers on a long-ago canceled television show about a family being forced to reunite on, of all places, Hulu. Behind the scenes, cameras follow its dysfunctional cast and their unresolved issues. It features Keegan-Michael Key, Judy Greer, Johnny Knoxville, Paul Reiser, Rachel Bloom, Calum Worthy and Krista Marie Yu. 

Levitan, creator, showrunner and executive producer of “Reboot,” now discusses the show’s creation, challenges and joys of working for a streaming service. 

Disney undergoes several changes 

With Disney+ going live in November 2019, the Walt Disney Company underwent numerous changes. Disney+ was new, and its executives were tasked with finding content for it as well as its other services, making it harder to navigate the system. 

“I think they've been rejiggering all their different streaming services, and that's been a challenge to try to learn what to produce for whom and what everybody's looking for,” Levitan says. “This business has never changed so much, so rapidly, I think in history. It's reinventing itself every few months, it feels like.”

Uncertainties ahead

Once Levitan had enough material, he started pitching the idea to Disney, which ended up being heard by several people. “In the beginning, it changed a lot, almost weekly. Somebody was there, and then they were gone, and this division became that division,” he claims. “It really was musical chairs for a while.” 

With Disney’s constant staff changes, he was also faced with the uncertainty of the material being developed. “Imagine trying to produce shows. You're [told] Disney+ is looking for a family show. ‘Great! I have this family show.’ We start developing it, and then two weeks later, it's, ‘No, they really want a kid-led show now. It's not just family, it really should be about the kids,’” he remarks. 

The show was eventually green lit, but then came the task to figure out which Disney platform would host it.

“When I look at the daunting task of trying to differentiate six different streaming services, and figure out what goes where, and what we're going to send to ABC, and what we're going to send to Hulu, and to FX, it's daunting,” he affirms. “I don't envy that task, but it was also confusing for producers.”

“Lord knows we have some colorful language in our business, so that was also important to me, because number one wanted this to be authentic,” says Steven Levitan. Photo by Michael Desmond/Hulu. 

Was it a straight shot to Hulu?

Eventually, Levitan says having “Reboot” be part of Hulu seemed like the most logical place to feature it, as it focuses more on adult comedies. 

“At the end of the day, I want a project to go where I feel it has the best chance of succeeding, and that should be the number one consideration from a creative standpoint,” he says. “Sometimes that might conflict with the business side of it, but we tend to work that out with no problem.”

Joking about Hulu on “Reboot”

In “Reboot,” Hulu is the platform hosting the fictitious sitcom being revived, so the streamer is the butt of a lot of jokes, which makes the show feel even more real. 

“We use [Hulu’s] signage, portray these executives and they are like, ‘Yeah, do it,’” Levitan notes. “They love those scenes, they think they're hilarious… they're always asking for more of the Hulu execs because they think they're the real heroes of this piece.” 

Also, getting the language right was important for him. “Lord knows we have some colorful language in our business, so that was also important to me, because number one wanted this to be authentic,” he states. “I really wanted the show to look and feel like you are standing behind the scenes of a television show being made. And I wanted other writers and actors to watch this show and think, ‘Yeah, that's exactly how it works.’”  

Longer running times per episodes

Working for a streaming service has made Levitan also appreciate the flexibility of not having a set amount of time for each episode. 

“Having the luxury of time allows us to [add] music, let moments just play naturally, and the camera sit on somebody's face for a bit and try to understand what they're thinking,” he says. “So that's been my favorite part of it.” 

“I think that the compelling reasons for doing network television are certainly going away. There's so much content and all the rules are changing. And I've done so much network television, I think I'm going to enjoy this world for a long time,” says Steven Levitan. Photo by Michael Desmond/Hulu. 

Adapting the British model

Levitan says he remembers a dinner at former British Prime Minister David Cameron’s house along with other TV producers, including Julian Fellowes, who created hit shows like “Downton Abbey,” and most recently, HBO’s “The Gilded Age.” 

In that gathering he was questioned about the successful adaptations of British series like “The Office” in the United States. “Why is it that we in the U.K. can produce so much innovative content, which then often goes to America and earns billions of dollars for the Americans?” he was asked. The original “The Office” only had 14 episodes in three seasons, but its spinoff had 188, distributed in nine years. He says he didn’t have a satisfactory answer at the time.

But with more streaming platforms available in need of more content, that British model seems to be picking up here. 

“It has occurred to me recently that we are slowly turning into them. We are adapting the British model where we are now doing six, eight, 10 episodes a year, with smaller staffs, and it's becoming more personal,” he states. “I understand now, after having done eight episodes in the year, it's a much more pleasant experience.”

Going back to network television: “Never say never”

Levitan is a television veteran, but even after years of success, he says he would need a “compelling reason” to return to a network now. 

“For me, at this point in my life, and I've done so much network television, I think I'm going to enjoy this world for the foreseeable future,” he states. “I can't see myself creating another network show. But never say never!”

New episodes of “Reboot” stream Tuesdays on Hulu.




Kim Masters


Joshua Farnham