‘Council of Dads’ Questions What We Define as Family

The new NBC drama, “Council of Dads,” is making a lot of noise for a multitude of reasons. The network is hoping the just-premiered series can duplicate the success of its crowd-pleasing “This Is Us.” Shot in Savannah, the show also has some groundbreaking and prominent LGBTQ characters, including a transgender first grader.

Adapted from the book by Savannah resident Bruce Feiler, loosely based on his own experiences, “Council of Dads” follows couple Scott and Robin Perry (Tom Everett Scott and Sarah Wayne Callies) as they deal with Scott’s cancer diagnosis. He puts together a trio of men – friend Anthony Lavelle (Clive Standen) from Atlanta, neighbor Larry Mills (Michael O’Neill) and Dr. Oliver Post (played by J. August Richards), Robin’s best friend, to be his “council of dads” for the family when he passes away. Many of the cast and crew were at February’s Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) aTVfest to promote the series and take questions after a screening.

The show was created by Joan Rater and Tony Phelan. Phelan calls the show an exploration of people showing up in life. “What do we define as family?” says Phelan. “The family can mean people who aren’t necessarily biologically related to you but are there. How do these men keep the father alive and help the children through the difficulties they are having? These men know the father the best.”

Rater and Phelan, a married couple, have a transgender son named Tom. That was on their minds when they put the series into action. “We have the cool experience of parenting this kid,” Rater says. “We wanted to show this on TV, what it looks like to love a transgender kid. So often you see other depictions of how difficult it is but so many people we know are loving their transgender kids like they love their other kids. We wanted to show that. A lot of people seem to be scared of gender difference, but it is my belief that once you know someone who is gay, lesbian, transgender, or nonbinary, it makes it less scary. My son is in college and he doesn’t want to go all over the country, so I do it for him. I talk about our family’s experience and demystify it and let people know from a parent’s perspective how normal it is and the benefits of accepting your child.”

The character of Dr. Post is gay. “We decided early on that we needed a married couple because being part of the new family complicates his marriage,” says Phelan. “You know what we never see on television – two African American men as a couple raising a child. Their story is a huge part of Season One.”

Richards, who worked with Phelan and Rater when they were involved with “Grey’s Anatomy,” jumped at the chance to be involved and loves the diversity of the ensemble, including several African American characters. “That is the beauty of the show,” he says. “I am not the only LGBTQ character on the show and I am not the only African American. As a result not one character has to have the burden of representation.” Richards also played a gay character on Bravo’s “Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce.”

The “Council of Dads” pilot was shot over a year ago in Savannah, and when NBC green-lit it for an entire season, the cast and crew returned to the area. Cori Graves, a SCAD Savannah student who identifies as part of the LGBTQ community herself, is a production assistant. Being part of the show has been especially relevant for her. “The show delves into situations that the LGBTQ community deals with, not by hitting you over the head, but explaining it as everyday.”

After its March 24 debut, “Council of Dads” returns to NBC on Thursday, April 30 at 8pm.