Rita Moreno as Lydia and Stephen Tobolowsky as Dr. Berkowitz in ONE DAY AT A TIME - Season 4 - "Boundaries" | ©2020 Pop TV/Nicole Wilder

Rita Moreno as Lydia and Stephen Tobolowsky as Dr. Berkowitz in ONE DAY AT A TIME – Season 4 – “Boundaries” | ©2020 Pop TV/Nicole Wilder

ONE DAY AT A TIME, like many other series, found itself stymied by the industry-wide shutdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, its makes have come up with a midseason solution: on Tuesday, June 16, Pop TV will air an animated episode of the usually live-action comedy.

Created by Gloria Calderon Kellett & Mike Royce, the new ONE DAY AT A TIME premiered on Netflix in 2017, introducing us to the Cuban-American Alvarez family. Justina Machado plays divorced mom Penelope, with two teenagers – daughter Elena, played by Isabella Gomez, and son Alex, played by Marcel Ruiz – at home. Penelope’s opinionated mother Lydia Riera is portrayed by Rita Moreno.  Original ONE DAY AT A TIME co-creator Norman Lear (the previous version of the show ran on CBS 1975-1984, concerning a white, divorced mom) creator Lear is on board as one of the executive producers.

After three seasons on Netflix, ONE DAY AT A TIME was picked up for its fourth season by Pop TV. The rest of the live-action season will air later, but for now, fans can enjoy the animated adventures of the characters.

Stephen Tobolowsky plays Dr. Leslie Berkowitz, Penelope’s boss and Lydia’s platonic love interest. Tobolowsky, originally from Texas, can also currently be seen as Principal Ball on THE GOLDBERGS, a role he reprised in SCHOOLED. Among Tobolowsky’s many other TV, film and stage credits are MORNING’S AT SEVEN (which earned him a Tony nomination), SILICON VALLEY, THE CONFIRMATION, CALIFORNICATION, GLEE, THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE, HEROES, DEADWOOD, MEMENTO, and GROUNDHOG DAY. Tobolowsky is also a successful author and podcaster.

ASSIGNMENT X: Were you surprised or just gratified when ONE DAY AT A TIME went from Netflix to cable? Some shows go from cable to streaming, but this may be the first one that’s moved in the other direction.

STEPHEN TOBOLOWSKY: I was thrilled, and I was amazed. You probably remember the last episode of Season 2. It’s where Rita’s in a coma, like the whole show is everybody sitting at her bedside, one at a time. It was a very heart-wrenching show. But to get that episode done, we had to rehearse on Yom Kippur [the Jewish day of fasting and atonement; those who observe the holiday are not supposed to work during it]. Yom Kippur is my favorite Jewish holiday. It is not my least favorite, it is the holiday that I have found the most satisfaction in. So missing it was a bit of a hardship. This last year, I missed Yom Kippur again, because I was sick as a dog, and I thought, “Well, I’m not going to go in that synagogue and get everybody sick.” So I stayed at home. But I did fast, and I did the prayers in bed, and I tried to be good.

[During the shooting of the ONE DAY AT A TIME Season 2 finale], Norman Lear and I sat on the stage, commiserating about how we were working on Yom Kippur. And Norman said, “You know, Stephen, one thing I really miss a lot is, when we did ALL IN THE FAMILY and all of those shows, it was on once a week. And it became a centerpiece of the households to talk about the show.” And when we got onto Pop TV, the first thing that came into my mind was, “Oh, my gosh, did it go somehow from Norman’s words up into the heavens, and come down as his wish come true?” Because I felt the same thing as Gloria. We worked like crazy doing all those shows, and then people stream them, and it’s done in a day, they’ve seen everything. So [airing once a week] is wonderful.

AX: Were you familiar with the original version of ONE DAY AT A TIME?

TOBOLOWSKY: When I came out to Los Angeles in 1976, K. Callan, from our hometown, Oak Cliff, about thirty miles outside of Dallas, had a recurring role on ONE DAY AT A TIME. When I came out here, she said, “Stephen, it’s so exciting, you wanting to be an actor. Would you like to come to the set of ONE DAY AT A TIME and see the way we do sitcoms?” So one of the first things I did, when I came out to L.A., was see ONE DAY AT A TIME, and see Mr. Norman Lear come onstage and deliver the pre-show speech. And then K. Callan took me down and introduced me to [series lead] Bonnie Franklin and to [series regulars] Mackenzie Phillips and Richard Masur and everybody. And I was just shaking in my boots, it was so exciting. So it was enormously freaky that I got the opportunity to be on this show. Now Mackenzie is in our show on occasion. And I reminded her of that distant time in the past when I saw ONE DAY AT A TIME.

Rita Moreno as Lydia and Stephen Tobolowsky as Dr. Berkowitz in ONE DAY AT A TIME - Season 4 - "Penny Pinching" | ©2020 Pop TV/Nicole Wilder

Rita Moreno as Lydia and Stephen Tobolowsky as Dr. Berkowitz in ONE DAY AT A TIME – Season 4 – “Penny Pinching” | ©2020 Pop TV/Nicole Wilder

AX: So there’s a circularity here …

TOBOLOWSKY: I say this about show business, and I find it true. In this particular community, the ocean is deep, but the ocean is small. You’re going to see everybody again. You’re going to meet them again at some time down the road, but it goes deep. When I told Norman that ONE DAY AT A TIME was the first show I saw when I was twenty-five years old [laughs], he almost fell over. But it is that kind of legacy that people in show business end up handing down to other people.

AX: Is Dr. Leslie Berkowitz comparable to Richard Masur’s character David Kane on the original?

TOBOLOWSKY: I don’t know how I coordinate with Richard on this show, except that my character gives Justina her job, and it gives her a track of where her character is going in terms of medicine, and in terms of trying to provide for her family. And then it also provides in a way a love interest for Rita. So it works in several ways that way.

AX: Have you had any fun adventures working opposite Rita Moreno?

TOBOLOWSKY: Every time I look into her eyes, I have an adventure with God. I’ll tell you something that I didn’t expect. Rita Moreno is a world-class athlete, being the dancer that she still is. She’s brilliant. I watched the way she works on a role, and she has to make her body feel the part first. Whereas me, I kind of work from the idea down into my gut, Rita works from her body into her heart and out her mouth. So I’m always fascinated, working with her. She is funny and caring and loving and generous. She’s one of the greatest people I’ve ever known.

ONE DAY AT A TIME Season 4 Key Art | ©2020 Pop TV

ONE DAY AT A TIME Season 4 Key Art | ©2020 Pop TV

AX: Speaking of different ways of working with your body, when you were recurring on HEROES, is it true you went in when your neck was actually broken to shoot a scene?

TOBOLOWSKY: I had been thrown from a horse on the side of an active volcano in Iceland. And what happened was, I had shot my death scene with Kristen Bell [who played Tobolowsky’s character’s daughter] on HEROES six weeks before. I go to Iceland, and I have this terrible accident, and I come home, and I’m in a brace, and that’s when the producers call me up on the phone and say, “Oh, we want to reshoot your death scene.” And I go, “Well, that’s going to be a problem now, because now I have a broken neck, and I’m in neck brace and all this stuff.” And they say, “Well, if we took that brace off, what could we do?” And I said, “Well, ‘we’ could die if I took the brace off.” So I said, “I’ll tell you …” They asked, “Well, can you walk, can you …?” All sorts of things. I said, “No.” And I said, “I’ll tell you what I’ll do. If you have a high-backed chair, I’ll bring my son there, you’ll say, ‘Action,’ I’ll take the brace off, and give it to my son, Kristen Bell can come out and do her new speech to me, with me dead in the chair, then give me my brace back, I’ll put it on, and you call ‘Cut’.”

So they did that. I sat in the chair, and Kristen came out, they said, ‘Action,’ took it off, I’ve got blood all over me, because Sylar, played by Zachary Quinto, ate my brains or something. Kristen came out, and she put her hand on the chair, and the chair moved, and it made my neck bobble, because I had no neck, my bones were broken. So my neck started bobbling, and [thinking she might have caused great harm] she started screaming and crying, and she kept doing the scene, and that’s the take they used.

AX: And that inspired you to write your books?

TOBOLOWSKY: Well, the doctor told me I had a “fatal injury” with my broken neck, and I thought that was kind of funny, because I was still alive, not fatal. But I thought, what if what he said was true, what would I want my kids to know about their father that I never got a chance to tell them? So while I was recovering, I started writing these true stories about my life that I wanted my kids to know about me – first love, first heartbreak, villains, bullies, all that stuff. And that became my first book, DANGEROUS ANIMALS CLUB.

And then [publishing company] Simon & Schuster said, “What people are loving about your stories is the comedy in your stories, but also the spiritual element. Can you do a second book that is tied together with this spiritual element?” So I go, “Yeah,” not knowing what I was going to write. And so MY ADVENTURES WITH GOD is that book, and what I did is, I tell true stories from my life, using the template of the five books of Moses, the idea that we all have the Genesis, first stories we tell people on a first date with a first glass of Chardonnay. We all go into [Exodus], or just staying in graduate school forever. Then we have a Leviticus moment, where we go, “Wait a minute. This is what I am, and this is who I am.” Then we’re shaped by mortality, like in the Book of Numbers, and then we tell our stories to other people, to try to make sense of what we’ve been doing. So, most of the stories are funny, and it follows the template of the Old Testament, and the stories interweave with the first book of stories. So it’s more memoir about the spiritual life of a human being.

AX: How did your book tour for MY ADVENTURES WITH GOD go?

TOBOLOWSKY: I think I did forty-five cities, and I think I did it in four months, but it’s still exhausting. And the first stop was at the Indianapolis place that got the swastikas painted on it [in 2018]. But it was phenomenal. And what was so interesting, I found out where my peeps were. I was in Seattle three different times, and in Florida four different times. So between the atheists in Seattle and the [religious people] in Florida, I found my peeps. They do love my book.

Also, when you travel all over the country, you get this rare opportunity to get a cross-section on how people view you and your career. So Number One on the list, everybody knows me as Ned from GROUNDHOG DAY. I cannot escape it, that’s what it is. Number Two is very selective, though. It depends on where you are. A lot of places like SILICON VALLEY. So many places like me as the principal on THE GOLDBERGS, but now, the passionate fans are ONE DAY AT A TIME. And they are very much in the Northeast, very much in Florida, and now in the heartland. I feel there are not a lot of shows as good as ONE DAY AT A TIME. And when you’re involved with a show that’s that good, it’s heartening to see people respond to it. And that’s one thing I learned on the book tour is, people love ONE DAY AT A TIME with a passion.

AX: Do they tell you what they love about ONE DAY AT A TIME?

TOBOLOWSKY: I think they all see Justina as the mother they always wished they had, and they see Rita Moreno, who plays Lydia, as their grandmother. And I was telling Rita this – it doesn’t matter what their financial background, race, where they came from, anything. Rita Moreno is everybody’s grandmother. So many people said, “My granny is just like her!” And I’m going, “You’re Jewish and living in Florida.” “Doesn’t matter, that was my grandmother.” Everybody thinks Rita is their grandmother, and everybody wishes Justina was the mother they always had.

AX: Even if you weren’t before, since your accident, you’ve been very health-conscious. There’s a scene where Leslie and Lydia smoke cigars together. Did you have concerns about that?

TOBOLOWSKY: Well, in a little way, but not because of my heart, but because I had throat surgery. And from the time I had throat surgery, the doctor said, “Don’t smoke any cigars,” so I’m thinking, “Uh-oh.” Because it isn’t just the cigars you smoke, but Rita and I were smoking that cigar at seven-thirty in the morning for an hour. So I’m going, “Ohh …” She smoked much better than I did, as I recall.

AX: Did you go to your doctor after doing that?

TOBOLOWSKY: [laughs] No, I was fine, but it was the exception that proves the rule, that made me go, “You know, we’re done with this.”

This interview was conducted during Pop TV’s portion of the Winter 2020 Television Critics Association (TCA) press tour.

Related: ONE DAY AT A TIME: Exclusive interview with actress Isabella Gomez on Season 4

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Article: ONE DAY AT A TIME: Exclusive interview with actor Steven Tobolowsky on Season 4 – Part 1


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