While most people reading this would give an arm and a leg to attend the Television Critics Association Press Tour — a bi-annual event that affords those who cover the industry the unique opportunity to hobnob with the actors, writers and executives who help create it — the unfortunate fact of the matter is that a never-ending parade of panels and parties is more often than not, not nearly as much fun as it sounds. That said, every once in a while a little gem of a show comes along that reminds us as to why we’re so lucky to be covering this business we affectionally refer to as show. This past TCA, that show was ABC Family’s SWITCHED AT BIRTH, a truly compelling series that tells the story of what happens when two teen girls (one deaf, one hearing) discover that they were, as the title suggests, switched at birth. But just what got us so enamored with a series that we immediately devoured Volume One on DVD on the flight home from TCA? Find out for yourself, after the jump.
The kleenex-required casting process.
While finding the prefect mixture of talent is never an easy thing when it comes to any television series, what made successfully casting SWITCHED AT BIRTH particularly challenging was that the Producers were intent on finding a leading lady fluent in American Sign Language (ASL). A challenge which according to Creator/Executive Producer Lizzy Weiss contributed to a roller-coaster ride of emotion. “It was an open casting call where Paul [Co-Executive Producer Paul Stupin] and I just had a really emotional day,” explained Weiss recounting the process that led to discovering their Daphne. “People came in, drove in for hours, said thank you so much for writing this, for having a character who is so well?rounded, who happens to be deaf, who is a full, real person who’s not just like a witness to a murder on another show. And they were just so excited that this could have the chance to go on TV.”
Katie LeClerc is a force to be reckoned with.
While odds are fairly certain that you’ve already discovered that actress Katie LeClerc isn’t technically deaf, what you might not know is that she suffers from Meniere’s disease. In other words, unlike most actors who simply have to show up to the set with their lines fully memorized, LeClerc has to do so while struggling with ringing in her ear, fluctuating hearing loss, and the occasional bout of vertigo to boot. “When I read the script, I literally went, ‘They’re never going to find this girl. This beautiful, talented actress who’s deaf or hard of hearing and fluent in American Sign Language’,” admitted Vanessa Marano who plays LeClerc’s SWITCHED AT BIRTH counterpart Bay Kennish. “I’m so thankful that someone like Katie did get cast, because so much is going into this part.” Added Weiss, “Katie pops off the screen, she’s a wonderful actress, she’s beautiful and that she looks like [her on screen biological mother] Lea Thompson is a huge bonus.”
As much as our recent obsession with SWITCHED AT BIRTH can be credited to the unique premise that shines the spotlight on a deaf culture we know so little about, a close second is the increasingly addictive love triangle involving Daphne, Bay and Emmett. And while we don’t pretend to know which team exactly will win out in the end (Editor’s Note: Go Team Bay!), we do know that a big part of the credit goes to relative newcomer Sean Berdy for crafting a character in Emmett so unlike anything we’ve ever seen on television before. Said Berdy, on the surprising success of his small screen alter ego, “Honestly, I can admit that I never expected that that character would grow in that way, become popular in that sense. I thought I’d be certainly a supporting role, background, you know, traditional deaf guy in an all?hearing cast. But the writers have included me. American Sign Language is being featured more than ever before, and I’m truly blessed and fortunate.”
Move Over Sharpay Evans.
Since we continue to hold a somewhat embarrassing soft spot for any and all actors involved in Disney’s HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL series, we feel it our duty to point out how pleased we are that the artist formerly known as Ryan Evans is finally getting his much-deserved moment in the spotlight. What’s more, he’s making the most of it. To the point that the entire cast pretty much conceded that Lucas Grabeel — who plays Bay’s slightly older and far less responsible brother Toby — has picked up ASL faster than anyone else in the cast. Said Gabreel, “Katie actually taught me — when we first started, I went to her, and she taught me five signs every day — because I really fell in love with the language immediately and just wanted to learn as much as I could. My girlfriend and I use it at parties to sign to each other like, “You ready to go’?”
The show is just the beginning.
Contrary to what the like of JERSEY SHORE, any show involving a Kardashian and the seemingly never-ending collection of truly trashy reality shows might have you believe, television still remains an incredibly powerful medium. Case in point, the response Constance Marie — who plays Bay’s biological mother Regina — has gotten to the show via social media. “I have people that are letting me know because of the show, they were so inspired that they’re petitioning their high schools to have sign language be one of the second languages that they can learn. They’re trying to find teachers. They’re spreading the word,” said Marie. “It will make me emotional and I will try not to cry. But I have had deaf people on Twitter let me know that they’re so inspired, that their ?? that as a hearing parent, to have a hearing parent learn sign language for their child means so much and they are inspired. And I’ve had mothers say because of that, I’m going to work harder to learn the language of my child. And it’s bridging a gap, and I think that is just a wonderfully beautiful thing.”
SWITCHED AT BIRTH airs Tuesdays at 8PM on ABC FAMILY (Mondays at 9PM on YTV in Canada). Catch up on past episodes you may have missed for free online at clicktowatch.tv.