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Things Only This Is Us Superfans Know

NBC's This Is Us, created by Dan Fogelman, has been drawing attention since its first episode — and that episode's very well-executed and surprising plot twist. Since the pilot premiered in 2016, This Is Us has continued to captivate audiences through several consistently acclaimed and solidly viewed seasons. The drama follows the saga of the Pearson family — couple Jack and Rebecca, and their three children, Randall, Kate and Kevin — through multiple decades, with storylines often taking place in different time periods over the course of a single episode. In the present day, Randall, Kate, and Kevin are adults — 36 at the beginning of the series — and flashback storylines range from them as young children through their teen years.

The show has received consistent praise throughout its run, along with steady ratings — between 5 and 7 million people tune in every week to watch the Pearson family saga unfold. Within the show's wide fanbase, however, is a smaller, more tightly knit group of hardcore viewers whose knowledge of the drama goes beyond what's aired every week. Feel like you're one of the show's truly faithful viewers? Test your knowledge with this breakdown of behind-the-scenes facts and tidbits about This Is Us that only superfans know.

The story was originally imagined as a film

Before developing This Is Us as a series, Fogelman — whose previous film writing credits include the hits Cars and Crazy, Stupid Love — had an idea for a film called 36. He told Deadline it was going to follow seven characters who share the same birthday, all of them turning 36; the ending was going to reveal that all the characters were related, with parents named Jack and Rebecca giving birth to the sextuplets in a scene set 36 years earlier. Sound familiar?

Fogelman wrote about 75 pages of the script, but never tried to pitch the idea because, even though he loved the characters, he "couldn't wrap [his] head around it as a film." After a different show of his was canceled, he eventually revisited his 36 script, this time with the intention of rethinking it as a series. Fogelman said he was excited by the idea of his planned ending — the reveal of Jack and Rebecca being the parents — serving as the foundation of the beginning of a long-term series. "The thing I liked most about the script — the characters — they could keep evolving over many, many stories," he explained. "And you could see how the family grows and informs itself over years and different time periods."

As viewers know, the final version of the story follows three siblings and their parents, meaning Fogelman cut other characters from the original treatment. He revealed that one of these characters was another sister living in London, with a partial British accent from having lived there so long. The half accent was intended as "another misdirect to them all being related in the end," Fogelman explained.

Fogelman originally imagined a more explicit version of the show

In the same Deadline piece, Fogelman said he initially considered the idea of pitching This Is Us to streaming services instead of a broadcast network like NBC, because he was worried about hanging on to some of the explicit dialogue in his original draft of the pilot. He admitted that while the script had a significant amount of adult language, including three f-words, it was relatively easy to let it go in the end — most of the instances weren't "spectacularly funny," nor did he find most to be "integral" to the plot or the characters.

The only exception to this, an instance of cursing which Fogelman hesitated to let go, was a line of Randall's delivered when he's confronting his birth father. The original line read "I don't need a f***ing thing from you," and for a time, Fogelman thought this particular instance of profanity was necessary to fully convey Randall's confused and conflicted feelings. However, actor Sterling K. Brown's performance as Randall was enough to put those worries at ease. "Then Sterling comes and does the monologue on the day, no f-word, and says, 'I didn't need a THING from you...' and spit flies out of his mouth on 'thing' and you feel his wound and his rage," the showrunner recalled. "I loved him more than I've ever loved an actor in that moment."

Kate is based on Fogelman's sister

During the writing process behind the creation of This Is Us, Fogelman took inspiration from a member of his own family for one of the lead characters. Kate, a woman struggling with her weight, is based on Fogelman's sister Deborah and her own real-life journey to lose weight. He told The Hollywood Reporter that Deborah was even hired as a consultant on the show. She reads each script and sends back her notes, especially about details relating to Kate's storyline.

Fogelman credits his sister for one of the most memorable Kate moments from an early season one episode when Kate gives a monologue with the line, "It's always going to be about the weight for me." Chrissy Metz, who plays Kate, had a strong reaction reading that monologue. "I remember reading those lines like, 'I'm always going to be afraid of a chair breaking underneath me' or 'whether people will be able to recognize if I'm actually pregnant,'" Metz told THR. "And going to Dan, in tears, like, 'These are my fears.'"

Sterling K. Brown has made history with his portrayal of Randall

Many of the This Is Us cast members have received awards nominations for their work on the show, including most of the leads and some of the guest stars. These award nods include nominations for Emmys, Golden Globes, SAGs, and more. Besides the oft-nominated Sterling K. Brown, who plays Randall, Ralph Cephas Jones has won multiple Emmys for his portrayal of Randall's birth father, William Hill. But it's Brown's wins that have broken records — and made history multiple times.

In 2018, Brown became the first Black man to win in his Golden Globes category, Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series – Drama. That same year, at the 24th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards, he became the first Black actor to win for Outstanding Male Actor in a Drama Series. Following these two wins, he also took home an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series, making him the first Black man to do so since 1998 when Andre Braugher won for Homicide: Life on the Street.

In his Golden Globe speech that year, Brown took the opportunity to thank creator Fogelman for creating the role of Randall. "Dan Fogelman, you wrote a role for a Black man that could only be played by a Black man. And so what I appreciate so much about this thing is that I am being seen for who I am and being appreciated for who I am," Brown announced from the awards show stage. "And that makes it that much more difficult to dismiss me, or dismiss anybody who looks like me."

Susan Kelechi Watson helps with Beth's style

In an interview with Vulture, Susan Kelechi Watson, who plays Randall's wife Beth, spoke about the collaborative relationship she has with the wardrobe department on the This Is Us set. "I say what I like, what I don't like," she explained. "I stress who I think she is as a character and they take notice. I expressed that I wanted her to reflect some of the African culture in her clothing, and you know what? The next week there was this material that they got from Mali and they created a poncho out of it so she could wear it."

As for Beth's hairstyles, Watson essentially has the final say when making those decisions. "I design most of my styles," she told Vulture. "Renee, who does my hair for the show is so, so good at just making that a reality and making it look even better than what I see in my head."

Watson also discussed how she uses the freedom to showcase the natural or braided styles of Black women. As she put it, "It's my shout-out to black women, because for so long we've been told we have to look a certain way, or our hair has to be a certain way just to even be accepted or as a part of what is considered to be the American standard of beauty... I'm just so happy that I have the opportunity to put that on NBC. It's right in the forefront of the television diaspora and it gives a lot of people pride to see."

Brown suggests storylines to the writers' room

Sterling K. Brown, while speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, said he has no intention of becoming, or desire to become, a writer for This Is Us — or any other show. But that doesn't stop him from visiting the writers' room, often to give suggestions about what he thinks could make a good storyline for his character. One example of a Randall storyline that rose out of a suggestion from Brown is the backstory of how Randall and his wife, Beth, met one another. He told THR that he wanted to explore Randall's decision to be with Beth, saying, "Very often, you choose somebody who looks like your mom, but Randall makes this conscious choice to be with a Black woman."

He is also known around the set for ad-libbing lines that often end up making it into the final cut. These lines typically shed light on the experience of being a Black man in the upper-middle economic class. The THR piece, giving an example, reads, "Early in season one, when Randall and his brother, Kevin, hear police sirens after getting into a fistfight in Times Square, Brown dropped in the line, 'I'm still Black; we gotta go.'"

This Is Us has a diverse writers' room

When Fogelman was putting together the This Is Us writers' room along with his co-showrunners Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker, he wanted to make sure it represented a diverse range of people. He told The Hollywood Reporter that the writers range in gender and race, as well as age and body type. Each writer brings in their own experiences and provides insight on topics that come up in storylines to make those stories as authentic as possible.

Aptaker discussed with THR the ways in which the writers' room is an open and safe space for everyone, telling the trade paper, "We've really, really tried to make the writers room a place where we can have [all] kinds of conversations — the kinds you don't have permission to have in your daily life." Berger then added, "The goal is that it's a safe enough space that a white writer can be like, 'Wait, do Black people need to wear sunscreen?'"

When it comes to storyline ideas that reference real-world things that none of the writers have experience with, they bring in consultants — such as with the subject of transracial adoption, for which they spoke with multiple people, including adoptees as well as parents who adopted.

Kate's singing career was written in for Chrissy Metz

Just as the This Is Us writers integrate their own experiences into the storylines and dialogue they write for the show, they, along with the producers, also pay attention to the actors' lives and may include real-world elements from them that could work well for the characters. This practice led to the character of Kate pursuing a singing career beginning in season two. Kate was not originally created to be a singer, or someone who would pursue that as a career. But according to Chris Sullivan, who plays Kate's husband Toby, the producers were thrilled to find out that Metz was a truly talented vocalist.

Sullivan told Glamour that "when the producers found out Chrissy Metz could sing, they immediately had to put that in. She sang live on-set twice, they recorded it, and that's what you saw on television."

Before landing the role of Kate on This Is Us, Metz had previously even auditioned for American Idol in 2007, although she didn't make it through to the next round. She spoke to Extra about the experience, saying, "I'm glad that I showed up for myself and sat in a stadium for eight hours... I was like, 'I'm committed. I'm gonna see it through.'"

Chris Sullivan initially wore a padded suit to portray Toby

In season one of This Is Us, Kate and Toby meet at a support group for people trying to lose weight; both of them are heavier and looking to get healthier and shed some of the pounds, Kate especially. It turns out, however, that for Chris Sullivan, who plays Toby, this was just part of the character for him, as he wore a padded suit in these early episodes (in later seasons, his character sheds the weight). The news was broken by Us, after his co-star Susan Kelechi Watson revealed it at a press event.

Many fans were surprised and a few were even decidedly unhappy about it, expressing outrage over the show not casting a heavier actor for a heavier role. Sullivan spoke to HuffPost about the reaction, saying that he wasn't surprised and adding, "They did a really good job on the costume, and there's no reason, unless it was a poorly done costume, why anyone would know... I guess we all have different responses to things that we believe are true, when we find out they're not."

Chrissy Metz also weighed in on the topic when she appeared as a guest on Watch What Happens Live. She said she understood the upset over the choice, "but Chris has been heavier, and I think he does understand the plight of being overweight." She went on to add, "Also, he was the best man for the job, and people wear prosthetics all the time."

The showrunners test out the big twists

This Is Us is definitely known for its major plot twists, from the different timelines revealed in the pilot to the long-teased truth about how Jack died following a house fire. The writers seem to always nail it, leading fans and interviewers to ponder how they pull it off so successfully every time. In 2020, the Tribune News Service spoke to Fogelman about this very topic.

It turns out that one of their tactics when it comes to nailing the big twists is getting feedback beforehand from a group of close friends. Before one of these episodes is set to air, the showrunners will host friends and family members to watch a screening and give their thoughts.

Fogelman used the episode in which Jack's death plays out — answering a long-awaited and much anticipated question for fans — as an example of how the screenings help show him how well they've done with a pivotal show. In fact, with so much weight on this episode, he held multiple screenings in advance. 

"What I learned from the early screenings was people were very distracted by the lack of background fire engines while the family was standing out in the front yard," said Fogelman. "I'm there asking, 'But are you captivated? Are you relieved when Jack gets out?' But over and over again, people would say: 'Why is nobody calling 911? Why are there no fire trucks coming?' And so it's like, we can't allow that to be a distraction because suddenly you're airing the biggest episode of your career and all of Twitter is going, 'Why is no one calling 911?' No thanks."