In a rare occurrence, ABC’s new hit sitcom “Speechless,” which depicts the life of a teenager with cerebral palsy and his family, has been signed to a full season after just two episodes.
The series has been one of the most critically acclaimed new shows of the fall season and will now air an additional nine episodes to what was originally planned. Fans of the show praise “Speechless” for its portrayal of a teenager with cerebral palsy in contrast to the few other depictions in film and television, which usually present characters with disabilities in a tragic light. Another unique aspect of the show is that its star, Micah Fowler, has cerebral palsy himself.
Executive producer and “Friends” veteran Scott Silveri created the show based on his own experiences growing up with a brother with a disability. Through a comedic lens, the show tackles the issues a family faces in raising a nonverbal child who relies on a wheelchair to navigate. Silveri describes the show as “like where comedy meets therapy.” It also stars Minnie Driver as Fowler’s mother.
Silveri said he is leveraging his comedy to help advocates begin a deeper conversation and raise awareness for the many issues that the millions of families in similar situations experience. The Cerebral Palsy Foundation has partnered with the show to feature content after each episode addressing the issues covered on that particular episode.
The goal is to benefit viewers with cerebral palsy and their families, as well as continue to educate the general public. Richard Ellenson, CEO of the Cerebral Palsy Foundation, said the intention of the post-show content is so people with cerebral palsy “can better understand their condition and make better choices.” The content will include experts from across the country as well as people with cerebral palsy discussing how the situations on the show relate to real life.
“Our job at the show is plain and simple: to tell good stories and make people laugh — this is no documentary about disability,” Silveri said. “That said, we’re committed to presenting a character with CP in a way that is informed, respectful and authentic.”
The numbers show that America is embracing Silveri’s portrayal, as the show debuted as the number-two comedy during premiere week for adults 18 to 49, drawing an average of 6.9 million viewers.
Channing Dungey, president of ABC Entertainment, boasted about the show, “We’re very proud of the creative excellence in front of and behind the camera and are thrilled to be giving our audience more episodes.”
Writer’s note: As a fan of the show who also is living with cerebral palsy, I am very excited to see more episodes continue to bring awareness to the public regarding living and raising a child with cerebral palsy. —FK