A Conversation with Peter Paige, Executive Producer of ‘The Fosters’


By Amy Amatangelo, TV Gal®

I’m kind of in love with The Fosters (Monday, ABC Family, 9 p.m.) right now. The show is a smorgasbord of social issues – adoption, same sex marriage, foster care, alcoholism – you name it, The Fosters probably has a story line about it.  But somehow, thanks to strong writing and solid performances, the show really works. The series has a lot of heart but is never treacly. And the characters rarely act stereotypically – the show constantly surprises me with its nuanced approach to complicated topics.

For those of you who haven’t watched the show, Stef (Teri Polo) and Lena (Sherri Saum) are married and raising Stef’s son Brandon (David Lambert) and their two adopted children Jesus (Jake T. Austin) and Mariana (Cierra Ramirez). Last season, Stef and Lena took in two foster children, Callie (Maia Mitchell) and her brother Jude (Hayden Byerly), who they want to adopt. Things got a little complicated when Brandon and Callie kissed and Callie ran away.  Now Callie’s living in a group home run by Rita (Rosie O’Donnell) but Brandon and Callie are IN LOVE.

A few weeks ago at the Television Critics Association Press Tour, I had a chance to talk with executive producer Peter Paige (you may remember him as Emmett on the Showtime series Queer as Folk) about the show and what’s coming up this season.

I’m fascinated by the Callie/Brandon romance because I can’t figure out what you guys are going to do. I mean, they can’t be together, right?

Peter Paige: This is the God’s honest answer. We write ourselves into corners all the time and we spend hours and hours and hours figuring our way out of it. What would you do? What would you really do if you have these two kids, you love them both. You want to adopt one. They’re in love. They’re teenagers. They’re hormonal. Is it real? Is it puppy love? Is it going away? These kids need a home. It’s a continuing conversation for us and it’s not going away any time soon.

How do you write for your teenage audience?

Paige: We don’t talk down to them. We don’t. ‘Okay you’re going to have sex for the first time and you’re not going to use a condom? Well here’s what you’re dealing with then.’ We try really hard not to be preachy and not to be after-school specially about it.

Teenagers are just adults but amped up. They’re so hormonally alive that it’s just fun to write for. They want more. They need more. They’re dreaming bigger. They hurt more than we as adults do I think and that makes it really really fun to explore.

What can viewers expect this season?

Paige: This season is an extension of last season – a lot of the issues have been brought to the table so it’s about exploring them.

The great thingis we’re very lucky and smarter than I even think we knew we were. We set this sort of trampoline in the pilot of all these stories and collisions. You can draw a line between any two characters in The Fosters and they create a dynamic and a situations that probably hasn’t been explored on television before. It gives us extraordinary opportunities.

One of the great things about the group home story is giving us a platform to tell some of the darker stories that we can’t tell with our family and our kids because our family is a primarily healthy family and a loving home and we need it to be that way so keep people watching.

We learn a whole lot more about Stef’s father this season in a way I find really compelling. It’s complicated. We never, never, never, never want to leave even our most challenging characters out in the cold. We’re all people at the end of the day so we try to treat everyone with dignity and respect.

What kind of research do you do for the show?

Paige: Fortunately the show has been very well received by both the adoption and foster communities. We have some people who work in the ABC/Disney family who grew up in foster care and made themselves available to us right away

When we decided to do this group home story line with Callie, I so happen to have a friend from the gym of all places who runs a group home so we were able to go and spend time with the girls there. It’s actually been an extraordinary gift.

Do you think a show like The Fosters can start to change people’s minds about same sex marriage and other issues?

Paige: I think media has the power to really engage people in conversation and make them comfortable with ideas that they never felt they would be comfortable with. Having been an actor on Queer as Folk I experienced that first hand.

One of my favorite tweets that I find fascinating and we get it all the time is I love The Fosters even though I don’t believe in same sex marriage. Sometime if you can during an episode of The Fosters, hashtag The Fosters and watch the feed. It’s amazing. It’s astounding to see. The response to every moment is really fascinating to see.

What do you think of The Fosters? Talk about it below.