So there was Michael Colton, getting unemployment checks. That happens to writers sometimes.
And there was his twin, with a very different reality: “He sold a company for about $7 million,” Colton told the Television Critics Association.
Colton’s brotherly reaction to this? “It was all of these feelings of anxiety, mixed with pride, mixed with jealousy and insecurity.”
Then he went to his default position – comedy. The result is “Home Economics” (shown here), which debuts at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday (April 7) on ABC.
Comedies often settle into one of two camps. There’s the prosperity of “Cosby” or “Frasier” or “Modern Family” … or the tight finances of “Conners” or “Honeymooners” or “All in the Family.”
This would be different, said John Aboud, Colton’s writing partner. “We wanted to do a family where there were different levels.”
Colton said his family offers a prototype: “I have a sister who works in, sort of, social work and has never made money.”
He and his sister aren’t sure how their brother makes his money. “He works in private equity,” Colton said, and invested in something: “I think it was a tree-care company ,,, like safety equipment.”
By comparison, Colton’s own ventures have had mixed success. He edited the Harvard Lampoon in college and later co-wrote (with Aboud) a Netflix movie (“A Futile and Stupid Venture”) about the brilliant but troubled co-founder of the National Lampoon.
They’ve written two other movies, one successful (“Penguins of Madagascar”) and one not (“The Comebacks”). They did some TV – usually on the quirky side, including “Children’s Hospital”; also, Colton appeared on many of the cable shows in the “I Love the 90s” mode.
That’s fine enough, but doesn’t bring a consistent payday. He and Aboud wrote a script about a modest-income writer with a rich brother and struggling sister.
For the writer, they wanted Topher Grace, who has been doing dramas lately, playing a virologist fighting Ebola (“The Hot Zone”) and Klan leader David Duke (“BlacKkKlansman”). But Grace started his career, 23 years ago, with “That ‘70s Show,” a comedy success.
“A lot of us hadn’t even acted before,”he recalled. “That was my first audition. Ashton (Kutcher) had only modeled; Laura (Prepon) had only modeled …. Wilmer (Valderrama) could barely speak English.”
But they learned quickly and the show ran eight seasons. That would be a hard experience to match, Grace said; after that, “I was scared to go back to network television.”
Then came “Home Economics.” He signed up as both the star and the executive producer, then helped choose his castmates, going with established names.
Karla Souza (“How to Get Away With Murder”) plays his wife, with Jimmy Tatro as his rich brother, Kaitlin McGee (“Bluff City Law”) as his low-income sister and Sasheer Zamata (“Saturday Night Live”) as his sister’s wife.
The real-life Colton is doing fine now … and recently won $17,603 in two nights as “Jeopardy” champion.
Aboud’s reaction to his writing partner’s victories? “Now I’ve gotten the answer to a question I’ve long wondered: ‘How could Mike get more annoying?’”