“What we’re doing,” says This Is Us’ Isaac Aptaker, “is telling stories that people don’t realize are common.”
The co-showrunner, along with his partners Dan Fogelman and Elizabeth Berger, has assembled a writers room that gathers daily on the Paramount lot and often functions more as group therapy. The tight-knit scribes are encouraged to speak often and openly about their own pasts, regularly mining personal wounds — about marriage, divorce, loss, weight, sobriety and illness — for plot points. And on the rare occasion when the drama wades into subject matter for which they lack first-hand knowledge, they invite speakers in to share their stories.
“We see it in the room: someone will tell us something that happened to them, and then three other writers will chime in with, like, ‘Oh, that happened to me.’ ‘That happened to my aunt.’ ‘That happened to my best friend,'” says Aptaker. “And all of a sudden, we realize that thing we’re not talking about every day is something that is a universal experience, and that’s what we’re putting on TV.”
In fact, Berger would go so far as to argue that that universality is why This Is Us has struck the chord that it has. “We don’t want to act like everyone is the same because everyone is not the same, and that’s why our show has black characters and white characters and characters of all different shapes and sizes and ages and sexualities,” she says. “So, we try to simultaneously honor those differences as truthfully as we can while also showing that, in a lot of ways, we’re all the same.”
Now, meet the 10 writers — as diverse in age, race, gender, body type and life experience as the characters they write — who, along with the series’ creator, are responsible for broadcast’s breakout hit of the year.
A version of this story first appeared in the Sept. 13 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.