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TV writer-producer Scott Silveri earned his sitcom chops writing for Friends 20 years ago, and went on to work on shows like Joey, Perfect Couples and Go On. When he got a deal at Fox and had the chance to pitch his own show, Silveri decided he was done with writing standard sitcom relationships. He started thinking about stories from his own childhood, which included growing up with a brother with cerebral palsy. He's mined that past with his show, Speechless on ABC. He tells us about asking his family for permission to borrow some of their stories and about the nationwide casting search to find an actor who really has cerebral palsy to play a teenager who uses a wheelchair and communicates by pointing a laser at words and letters on a board.

Photo: Scott Silveri, creator of Speechless on ABC

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Matthew Belloni, Hollywood Reporter (@THRMattBelloni)

Scott Silveri on 'Speechless' 20 MIN, 18 SEC

The ABC show Speechless centers on the DiMeo's -- mom, dad, and three kids. It's your standard family sitcom setup, except the oldest son, 16-year-old JJ, played by Micah Fowler, has cerebral palsy. JJ uses a wheelchair, and while he doesn't talk, he has no trouble making himself understood.

The cast also includes another character who becomes like family -- JJ's aide Kenneth, played by Cedric Yarbrough. Kenneth gives voice to the words JJ spells out by pointing a laser at letters and phrases on a board attached to his wheelchair.

The show recently ended its first season and was picked up for a second. It has been much acclaimed for its depiction of disability on screen--a rarity in Hollywood--and for actor Micah Fowler's portrayal of JJ.

Speechless was created by Scott Silveri, who wrote for Friends and created the shows Perfect Couples and Go On -- all for NBC. He's written a lot of sitcom relationship arcs over the years, but never encountered a TV family that looked like his own, which includes a brother with cerebral palsy.

When Silveri got a deal at Fox, and started thinking about what his next show would be, he decided that perhaps it was time to get personal. He tells us why now felt like the right time to create a show that openly addressed disability and family--and why he wanted it to be a comedy. He also talks about the nationwide search to find JJ, the necessity of casting an actor with cerebral palsy, and the massive amount of research and consultation that goes into the show.

Scott Silveri, TV writer and producer


Kim Masters

Kaitlin Parker

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