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‘Downward Dog’ interview: Kat Likkel and John Hoberg know how to keep it real

Kat Likkel and John Hoberg have a talent for finding, writing and producing unique shows full of humor and heart. ‘Downward Dog’ is a fitting follow-up to ‘Galavant’ in many ways. Both shows are a gamble for a mainstream network like ABC because they each have a very specific tone and different narrative structure than anything else you’ll see on television. Despite obvious fantastical aspects (a talking dog and a medieval musical), each show is grounded in the realism and reliability of it’s engaging cast of characters. In my fun-filled interview with Hoberg and Likkel, we discuss how and why they joined ‘Downward Dog’ and what fans can expect from their latest endeavor.

Just like ‘Galavant’ fans, Likkel and Hoberg were anxiously waiting to learn the musical-comedy’s fate when they heard of a new show about a talking dog. Their interest was piqued, so they met with ‘Downward Dog’ creators, Samm Hodges and Michael Killen. You could say it was the creative equivalent of “love at first sight” because Likkel and Hoberg were eager to join the new project.

These four brilliant minds make quite the creative collaboration. They deeply respect each other as professionals and as people. (Seriously, there was a lot of love and gushing on both sides, which is always so sweet to see.)

Hodges and Killen fought to make sure their show was done right. They didn’t want to compromise their original vision. Pulling off ‘Downward Dog’s’ unusual tone is no easy task. If you listened to my podcast interview with Hodges and Killen (here), you’ll know there was a different show-runner attached to the project when the pilot was first filmed. It wasn’t until their meeting with Likkel and Hoberg, that they realized they found true kindred spirits who would protect their work baby.

This pairing seemed destined to be from the start. Likkel recalls the duo’s perfect timing,

They happened to talk to me and John literally right after we were waiting to find out if ‘Galavant’ was going to be picked up for a third season. When it wasn’t, we’re like, “You’re talking to the right people at the right time. You guys have a really special show and we are going to help you fight to keep it on track and keep it everything that everyone wants it to be. They hit us at the right moment of really wanting to dive in and help keep our arms around it and protect what’s so special about this story when despite everybody’s best intention, sometimes that special thing can get lost in translation.

So Hoberg and Likkel happily assumed the role of Papa and Mama Bear, fervently protecting their creative cub (or pup in this case.)

‘Galavant’ was the perfect training ground for a show like ‘Downward Dog’ because they learned how to straddle the fine line of keeping a unique show on tone. Hoberg says, “Where we could help a lot is knowing how to police tone…It could’ve gone off the rails real easily.” Likkel and Hoberg have a magical talent of taking something that may sound like a silly premise and grounding it in reality, so that it turns out to be really deep and moving. There also is a common theme they enjoy exploring in both shows.

The couple describes the kind of stories that appeal to them. Hoberg explains, “We’re drawn to stories of redemption or sort of the underdog discovering that they’re worth it after all. Almost like with Richard, he discovered that he’s valuable, he just had to believe in himself. In a lot of ways, [so is] Nan.”

Nan and Martin are the underdogs at the start of the season. They are struggling with their daily life, ranging from mundane musings to potentially life-changing opportunities. Martin and Nan’s relationship is relatable and their personal growth parallels in many ways. Their issues are also reflected in the relationships they have with Jason, Kevin, Jenn and other characters. Hoberg and Likkel worked closely with Hodges, Killen and their predominantly female writing team to create real characters that deal with everyday problems. As a result, characters’ storylines evolved organically.

The ‘Downward Dog’ team would chat and get to know each other over dinner and drinks in Pittsburgh (where the show is filmed). Soon, casual conversations about their own lives inspired many great episodic stories for Nan, Martin and Co.

Likkel reveals, “We would sit and talk about our relationships and where we thought characters could go. And you also bring your own personal stories a lot into this kind of thing. […] We all talked about our stories, our struggles, all those things you have to deal with in your life. And you see that Nan is trying to figure herself and her life out.”

From the beginning, Hodges, Killen, Hoberg and Likkel all agreed on the “Laws of ‘Downward Dog.'” The creators already figured out the heart of the show, they just needed to decide how they all could execute their unique vision. It takes a lot of effort to find the right balance. Likkel and Hoberg walk us through their process of creating this season.

Hoberg demonstrates how their personal experiences influenced their work. Hodges and Killen have been on a long journey. They’ve made sacrifices and remained unwavering in their effort to make their dream of ‘Downward Dog’ a reality. When they started working together on the show, Hoberg recounts, “We talked about: What is the season arc?…What have a sacrificed to get [victories in life]? … That’s how the show was built: What are we going through personally?”

They all agreed on one big rule for the series: the only “suspension of disbelief” is the talking dog. Everything else on the show is grounded in reality. Hoberg elaborates,

…We made an effort in the house, you can see the cords from the TV and there are dust bunnies everywhere. We made things feel as real as possible and motivations to be as real as possible because we felt like if you made Nan do something a person wouldn’t normally do, you’d go ‘Wait a minute, a talking dog and the people aren’t real?’ So that was sort of the mantra for the whole thing…That’s what we’re most excited about. We feel like it’s all very genuine. People act like people.

You also notice that Martin totally acts like an average dog. Aside from addressing the camera, we see him behaving normally. He even pales in comparison to some dogs, as we see in Episode 4 when Martin feels insecure around super-talented Hunter who has both “brains and brawn.” The juxtaposition of Martin’s musings with what’s happening in reality is what makes this series so exciting and special.

We’ve talked a lot about Martin and Nan, but they’re not the only ones with a complex relationship. Throughout the course of this season, we see Nan struggling with romance. She loves her boyfriend Jason, but fears he’s holding her back, so she breaks up with him. Although they’re no longer a couple, Nan still wants to remain friends. That’s easier said than done, which makes for a compelling storyline. Surprisingly, it almost didn’t happen.

Likkel reveals,

The original idea was that Nan and Jason were going to be broken up and could be a little bit like adversaries. But then when you see how lovely Lucas [Neff] is, the smiles are just heart-melting. You just sort of feel like, ‘No, these people need to be together. They just have a lot they got to work out.’ … We’re going to see them try to work this stuff out through the course of this. This isn’t going to be just a ‘Oh we’re back together in Episode 2.’ It’s going to be like real life…Sometimes, even though you love each other, now might not be the right time for it or you might have different path ways. It was really fun trying to work out those really real, grounded things that keep you in the real world while you’ve got you’re talking dog.

As the season unfolds, we become more and more invested in these characters and their lives. We’re rooting for Nan and Jason to make their relationship work. We also sympathize with Martin’s sensitivity/anxiety and understand why he feels neglected when Nan shifts her attention towards Jason or her career. That fact that we are so deeply moved by ‘Downward Dog’ is a testament to the creators, show-runners and writers.

Likkel admits, “It takes a lot of sitting down and doing a gut-check with everybody…You need to remember not to over fix [problems].” You never want to lose the magic that makes as show like this so special because it’s all part of the allure.

“What we’re excited about is it’s such an unusual show but it’s got all the elements, especially from the ‘Galavant’ crew, I think there’s something about the heart and sincerity that reminds us of ‘Galavant.’ Everybody is a person, which we like to do,” Hoberg shares.

 

They are also very appreciative of ABC taking a chance on ‘Downward Dog.’ Likkel happily gushes, “The network and studio execs were all so passionate about it and all just loved the show.”

 

 

Let’s hope ABC doesn’t lose faith in the show. ‘Downward Dog’ is reaching it’s most pivotal point yet as it hits the mid-season marker. If you love the show, please watch and tweet live on Tuesday nights at 8. Word of mouth also plays a big role in underdog shows like this. Get friends to binge watch and catch-up before the season is over. Delayed DVR, On Demand and streaming views can make a big difference.

Check back for an update after tonight’s episode airs. I’ll post my podcast full of juicy scoop on Timothy Omundson’s guest appearance!

What do you think of ‘Downward Dog’? Have you noticed show’s the similarities with ‘Galavant’? Were you surprised by any of the stories and insights Likkel and Hoberg shared?

Share your thoughts below and stay tuned for more scoop!

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