The upcoming sixth and final season of Disney Television Studios’ mega-hit This Is Us is sure to see some emotionally stirring storylines. In fact, during Deadline’s Contenders Television: The Nominees event, series creator Dan Fogelman said he brought studio execs to tears during a Season 6 story pitch meeting on Zoom.
“People were crying to the point that I wasn’t sure if I should keep going or not,” he said. “Cameras were shutting off, and I thought I’d lost people.”
“But he does this with glee.” laughed Sterling K. Brown, who plays Randall on the NBC series. “He always says, ‘I’m about to kill America.’”
Despite that claim, even Fogelman himself got tearful during the writing process, he said. “I just finished writing the season premiere, and it’s the second time I’ve cried writing the show. I was like, ‘Oh God, what’s happening?’ The first time was when William died. That made me cry.”
Contenders Television: The Nominees Livestream, Schedule & Lineup
As for whether everything will be neatly wrapped up in the final season, which is due to premiere next year, Fogelman added: “All the questions that you’re asking about Kate, and who’s Nicky [with], and how does this end — we’ve had it very carefully mapped out. So, love it or hate it, we get to go out the way we’ve always planned on going out and executing the plan. I feel very confident in it, and I’m excited about this season.”
Has Fogelman been tempted at all to go beyond the plan of ending with Season 6 and do a Season 7?
“Not in that way because this show’s too important to me personally and, I think, to everybody involved in it.” Due to the difficulty of managing character aging and continuing flash-forwards and flashbacks, he said. “I just don’t think I’d be able to do it the way I wanted to.”
Fogelman and Brown were joined by Chris Sullivan, who plays Toby, and by the show’s composer, Siddhartha Khosla, who opened the panel with a performance of “Randall’s Theme” from the show’s score — music that he employed to great effect this past Season 5 in the episode “Birth Mother,” in which Randall connects with the story of his origins.
“I wrote that theme actually originally for the episode where Randall has his big anxiety attack in Season 1,” Khosla said. “It felt fitting to take that same theme and make it this big, sweeping epic version of it. It felt like Randall finally arrived.”
Brown also addressed the way the show dug into the Black Lives Matter movement in Season 5.
“It was art imitating life in a really lovely way,” he said. “Given this transracial adoptee Randall Pearson growing up in a household where his family chose not to speak about difficult conversations around race, whether or not they felt it was just too uncomfortable or they were afraid of saying the wrong thing, that’s something that maybe you can do, but it’s really hard when you have a little Black boy that you’re raising as white. So, to be able to speak to people that you love, that you know love and care about you, and to try to articulate that this has been missing all along is a different and nuanced conversation to enter into and I’m so happy that we got to do it.”
Of his decision to discuss the movement in this way, Fogelman said: “I had made the decision that we were uniquely suited to have a conversation that’s a very difficult conversation and that the conversation on our show could be a conversation that can’t really happen between a Black friend and a white friend, or a Black community and a white community, because it’s a family. It’s a very unique conversation, speaking to something bigger that’s unique to these characters.”
For Sullivan, Toby’s arc this season addressed the pandemic, as he waits outside the hospital and meets a man (played by Michael O’Neil) who is waiting for news about his wife, who is on a ventilator — a scene Sullivan described as, “one of my favorite nights of shooting on the series.”
Toby also loses his job in pandemic cutbacks — something that many viewers likely could relate to.
“A lot of this last season was letting people know they’re not alone, and letting people know that the conversations they’re having are not unique to them,” Sullivan said. “Even though we are all isolated, we are not alone. That was important. We were very lucky to be able to work through all of this, and Dan set up a structure for all of us to go to work.”