This week, viewers of The Jim Gaffigan Show were surprised to learn that the TV Land sitcom’s recent season finale was also its series finale. The husband-and-wife team responsible for the show—co-creator/star Jim Gaffigan and showrunner Jeannie Gaffigan—were in for their own surprise, however, as news of The Jim Gaffigan Show’s “cancellation” spread via headlines and social media. They hadn’t been canceled—they came to a mutual agreement with TV Land to end the series after two seasons. Though both offered clarification on Twitter, confusion about the conclusion persisted, so the Gaffigans came to The A.V. Club to tell their story.
The A.V. Club: When did you come to the decision to end The Jim Gaffigan Show?
Jim Gaffigan: This show’s been in existence for five years. We’ve obviously been shooting it for two years, but we’ve been attempting to figure out, over the past few years, how we can do this with five kids. Because it’s not just simply one parent working on the show full time. It’s two. So it’s both mom and dad, essentially, with five kids. So there’s plenty of people that can do it possibly with one or two—and some of it’s the age of our children.
Jeannie Gaffigan: It’s not that we just all of the sudden came to a decision. We’ve been trying to navigate the best way to make this work for a long time, without being like this is the end. We’ve been like, “Okay, how can we make this work?” So we’ve pretty much been making it work, and we could continue to make it work, but at the expense of our children. We’ve had ongoing discussions about at what point is this going to be worth it, what sacrifice we’re making. And people are always saying “kids are resilient” and “they’re going to get over it. They’re going to be fine.” Which is great, and I’m hoping that the past two years of us essentially barely seeing our children—we’re going to be able to fix that. But I think going forward, once the episodes were airing and we were on tour right away, and realizing that our children had gone pretty much a whole year without having us as their primary caregivers, was really shocking to us. Once the show was on the air, and we were experiencing the fallout of the situation—nothing that can’t be rectified—it was definitely something that was, for me as a mother—yes, we could continue to do this, but at what expense?
It wasn’t something that we wanted to do without having some heart in it and having a very heartfelt, personal discussion with [Keith Cox, executive vice president of development and original programming at TV Land]. That’s why the language that we decided on was very clear: It was going to be a mutual decision. We weren’t storming off of the show.
Jim Gaffigan: Here’s a couple things: Over the past two years, we’ve been looking at this. This is obviously a very personal show: In the fact that it’s autobiographical, Jeannie’s the showrunner, Jeannie directs, we write all the episodes, I’m in most of the scenes. And this show was never designed to go for the hundred episodes and go for syndication. It was designed to be something to capture our comedic point of view, and to do the type of show that we wanted to do. When we sat down with [Viacom executives] Doug Herzog and Larry Jones and they asked to do the show at TV Land, that was the scenario: Do the show you want.
In a different age—in like three years—it might be a different scenario. Our kids are 12, 10, 7, 5, and 3. Maybe in three years, it’ll be a completely different scenario. Maybe if it was a different show. But it wasn’t the type of show where we could delegate the writing or the execution of it. We eventually got to the point where Jeannie was directing. The final episode had 56 scenes. We didn’t see a way to simplify the show. The show we wanted to do was not formula sausage-making. It was something that was very personal and refreshing. We love television. We consume an enormous amount of television when we’re not with our kids. Doing a show if it was not going to be the quality that we wanted—we wouldn’t want to do it.
Jeannie Gaffigan: This particular show, the way that we conceived it: It’s about our lives, it’s our unique spin about how we incorporate our faith into our comedy, our children, our real story. It’s not the type of thing where we can just get a room of 22 writes and show up a couple times a week to give notes. The way that we like it to look, and the way that we like it to be cast and the guest stars and all that stuff there’s no system in place to make that happen without us working 80 hours a week. The way that the schedule is, the fact that it airs in the summer, the fact that it’s on cable TV—there’s a multitude of factors that, moving forward, could we do it? Yes. Would it be at the expense of children being people that we raised in their formative years? I don’t think that could happen.
It was a very hard to decision to make. I had a follower ask me [if I knew] that the season finale was going to be the series finale. And I had no idea. I just concentrated on executing a show that we wanted to do, the way that we wanted to do it. We only had 20 minutes and 30 seconds every episode to tell the story—because of the enormous amount of commercials. And I had no idea that it was going to be the series finale. I thought there would be a way that we could work it out. The decision was a slow, difficult decision that was made after we started spending some time with our children in the summer and realizing that life is really going by. When we were in development for this, I had four kids.
Jim Gaffigan: Our life is very full. Jeannie and I write books. I tour doing stand-up. I get to do movies and stuff like that. It really comes down to our kids. The TV show was great, but our primary source of income is stand-up. And the time commitment to do the type of show we wanted—I’ve been doing this long enough where I’m not seeking a certain amount of fame. Is it exciting that it’s the No. 1 comedy trending on Twitter on Sunday? Yes. Not that I even know what that means. There’s so many pieces, and the creative team of Jeannie and I, we have to manage the expectations of. TV Land’s been great. The TV landscape is changing, so they might want a show that’s going to do 22 episodes. They might want a show that’s going to do a lot of things. What we’re looking for, and the creative outlet we’re seeking, is just incongruous when you have five children under 12. It’s just insane.
AVC: Looking back: With the development process having been so long, are you glad that you went through with it? Are you satisfied with what you were able to do in two seasons?
Jim Gaffigan: It’s a long journey that we went on through this. Initially, Jeannie and I had this development deal, this script deal, at NBC. Then we did two rounds at CBS. And we ended up at TV Land. Honestly, it’s like: Yeah, it was great experience. Most importantly, and what we’re most grateful to TV Land for: We got to do the show we wanted to do. We have tons of friends who go through the network development process and end up with a show they don’t like. We liked our show. I’d be doubtful that Jeannie and I would ever develop a half-hour comedy for one of the big four networks. I think that we’re getting farther and farther away from what the four-camera show is. And being a clean comedian that has five kids, that talks about food and is Catholic—I think people expect it to be like Full House, when that’s not the type of show that we’re doing.
Jeannie Gaffigan: We had this model that came out of what CBS wanted the show to be. And then when the TV Land opportunity came up, it was like “What kind of show do you guys want to make?” And I feel like with the parameters of what we already had, and with the fact that we had 20 minutes and 30 seconds to make a little film, I love our show. I loved doing it, I loved everything about it. I loved finding the voice of the show, I loved the guest stars. I thought we had amazing talent. I felt like we were going to really silly places with a really ground premise. I just want to do more stuff like that. And I think that in the future, what we need to do is stuff that allows us to function as a family, so we can get our humor and ideas from real life, and we’re not, like Jim said, doing some formula that’s not true to us. So in order to do that, we need to have some real experiences with our family and with our lives.
We’re doing so much already, and this was an extra, fun, great bonus. But when all is said and done, we loved everyone: We loved the cast, we loved the support we got from TV Land, we loved how they were so 100 percent behind the show. It’s just we want to avoid a crisis in our lives. We’re trying to be smart about this. We think we did two great seasons, and it’s better to learn this now than to learn it when some damage might be done. But we’re still going to be Jeannie and Jim Gaffigan. We’re still going to produce the same quality of show. We’re just going to find a different way to do it that is more conducive to us being able to keep our family together.
AVC: So what’s your proudest achievement with The Jim Gaffigan Show?
Jim Gaffigan: I think I’m most proud that in the second season, we didn’t do an episode that I wasn’t excited about. I mean, I feel this way about the first season, too. We wanted to do a show that was representative of issues in our lives. And the more personal you get on television shows, the less likely you are to repeat stories that people have done, and more people can identify.
The finale episode, I think, was the cream of the whole process. Jeannie directed, I played my dad, and we covered a whole different generation. What was so exciting about “The Mike Gaffigan Show” is—and I’m not just saying this to be cute—there was something, like we were finding our stride. Going back to “Bible Story” in the first season, there was reluctance from a lot of people going, “What are you doing? You can’t do this right away.” And by the second season, I was committed to not getting caught up in what you’re supposed to do in the third season or the second season or whether there’s supposed to be a pretty bow at the end of an episode. But I would say “The Mike Gaffigan Show” [is the proudest achievement]. Looking back on the show, it is this reflection on fatherhood. That’s what the show’s about in a lot of ways, which is really unsexy, but I think anyone who’s been a son or daughter or father or mother—which is everyone—that they’ve had this kind of perspective. And this show is really kind of a glimpse at that.
The balance of work and family is how this show ended. I do want to be clear, I think it’s very flattering when people on Twitter and Facebook say “Bravo to you doing the right thing.” It’s not a brave thing that we’re doing. It’s literally both parents were unavailable. So in other words, we’re doing the only thing we could do for our five kids. Even if we were nominated for a bunch of Emmys, I think we’d be having the same conversation. In the end, it’s really about these children that, not to get all Kahlil Gibran, but they’re on loan to us, right? We have people that are very passionate on social media that are really supportive of the show. I was reluctant to tell them. They’ve been advocates of the show. TV Land is a great network, but a lot of people under the age of 40 have never been to TV Land.
Jeannie Gaffigan: Or they don’t have cable anymore.
Jim Gaffigan: No one under 30 has cable. The journey of getting people to watch and sample the show was something where we needed a lot of help, and people on social media were doing that. But the exciting thing is, Jeannie and I have done a lot of things, a lot of stand-up, from a career standpoint, we’ve written stand-up, we’ve written books, and I do feel like during that “Mike Gaffigan Show,” the crew and cast, I think they all knew that we were doing something kind of cool, and kind of special, and you know, I’m a jaded entertainment personality, too. And it’s fun when you can be like, “All right, we’re not doing something where someone loses slippers, we’re doing something that is this commentary on fatherhood that is a commentary on generations, and we’re going to say some things that are going to make people uncomfortable, but we have a point of view.” That was really fun. Look, I love Adam Goldberg and Michael Ian Black and Ashley [Williams] and everything, but when Adam Goldberg laughs at something at a table read, you know it’s good. When Michael Ian Black says an episode is really impressive, you know it’s good. I’m like them. Some of the shine of the entertainment industry is diminished.
By the way, talking to them, they got it. It’s like, Adam, Michael, and Ashley are all parents. In the end it really wasn’t that hard of a decision. It was disappointing that we couldn’t determine some scenario to keep it going, but if the main characters weren’t Jim and Jeannie, maybe we could have done some scenario where it worked, but it’s all good.
AVC: And is there anything that you wish you would have had a chance to do with the show?
Jim Gaffigan: You know, I think that Jeannie and I were always talking about, because we learned so much, that if we were going to do it again, that there would be a consistent narrative through another season. That it would be one long story. A serial aspect. We would probably want to do that.
We would definitely want to get more ambitious, but that’s the other thing—we also had a nice budget. And we used every single penny of it. So we were a cable show that had a pretty decent network budget. So that was something hard to walk away from.
AVC: The strange thing about seeing the story of the show’s end unfold is that it felt like watching episodes like “The Bible Story” or “The Trial,” where information gets picked up in the news and social media and snowballs from there. Some people understood it, some people misinterpreted it. At this point, do you feel like there’s a way to actually get your message across without it going in a million different directions?
Jim Gaffigan: It’s really interesting, right? We were lucky. We did a show—it wasn’t a top 10 show, but it had some critical acclaim, it had decent ratings in this dwindling environment. But we called Keith Cox, and we said, “Look, this is where we’re at.” And he was very supportive. If it was a top 10 show, he might have had a different attitude.
But, when we put out the announcement, the only thing that’s frustrating—I’m used to miscommunication on the internet—is that we don’t want people to think that we’re being insincere, that we’re manufacturing some excuse. We did do it on our terms, but it’s also that it’s not even the ego. We don’t want people to think that we would use our children in such an icky manner. That’s the problem. I don’t begrudge some journalist just going to the assumption that it was canceled. But the problem that I have with it is that if there’s communication confusion, then people might think that we manufactured our exit after it was predetermined that it was going to be canceled, which is not the case.
Jeannie Gaffigan: I also think that just for the headlines, it’s much more titillating to say that something was given the ax or was canceled than it is to talk about the very non-business-y way that this decision was made, as a mutual agreement between us and the network. It is unheard of, and I don’t think that’s a very sexy, compelling, or titillating reason for this to happen. I think it’s like reality, and people aren’t used to that. I don’t want to say it’s lazy journalism, but there was never any statement that was made that anything was canceled or anything like that. There was no press release or anything like that. It was a carefully, mutually agreed upon way that we were going to do this. Without saying “Crazy Jim and Jeannie just walk away from their successful show,” or “TV Land gave the show the ax,” neither of those are true. We have a very good relationship with TV Land, and we had a very human discussion about it. It was very real. It was really a beautiful thing. I think that the news outlets that want to find some kind of titillating headline are just kind of being—it’s like, what’s real, and what’s the news, and what’s going to get people to read it? And we’re just not like that, and maybe that’s why we are where we are, because we are more concerned about doing a quality show that’s about real issues than shocking people or having people watch the show because it deals with taboo, over-the-top issues. I think that anyone who is just sort of manufacturing this, any kind of story that’s not on the up and up is just doing it for attention.
AVC: Is there anything that you wanted to say that we didn’t get a chance to touch on?
Jim Gaffigan: You know, I would just say that if people haven’t had a chance to watch the show, if they’re going to watch one episode, watch the finale, the Mike Gaffigan episode, which is on-demand.
Jeannie Gaffigan: Watch the whole season!
Jim Gaffigan: You know, watch the whole season.
Jeannie Gaffigan: Buy a season pass on iTunes! We’re very proud of it.
The reason that I didn’t direct more episodes is because of the prep time. When we have a director, when they’re not shooting, they have a week to prep before they start shooting, and I did not have that. I’m running the show, so I’m on set all the time, so I don’t have any prep time. So when I knew I was going to be directing the finale episode, because I think in visuals, I had the whole, when we were writing the script, I had the shot list already in my head. I had a vision of the location in my head, and I wrote it around that kind of idea. So I just started prepping the whole season. So to me, I was working on “The Mike Gaffigan Show” simultaneously with working on all the other episodes. Because you don’t just come up with all those eras and all those wigs and period looks and the way it was filmed and the different treatments of film, you don’t just come up with that at the last minute, the week before or anything like that. “The Mike Gaffigan Show” was really being worked on all season by all of our departments.
There’s a lot of exciting things that happened, tragic things, and crazy things have happened, like losing our house at the last minute and having to get another house and having to re-do the whole thing in period. It was real guerilla filmmaking. It brought our crew really close together. There are people on that crew—our director of photography, our line producer, our unit production manager, makeup, hair, wardrobe, locations—there are people that we are going to be joined at the vein with forever. This is another family of ours, and it was a really spectacular thing to be juggling so many hats at the same time, and shooting three episodes at once while we’re prepping the finale. It was really an amazing experience as an artist, as a person, and keeping it all together, all my kids appear in the last episode. My son plays young Jim, he’s in every scene. Jim is playing his father as a character through the whole thing. It’s a way to tell a story in a different way that goes from past to present to present to past and then stays in the past and goes even further back in the past. There was a lot of really unique things about that journey of that last episode. It really solidified in us that we just really want to do things that are outside of the box, but yet familiar and grounded in a way to people, in the future.