Oregon-raised Scott Prendergast on creating new CBS show, ‘So Help Me Todd’: ‘I wanted to write about Portland’

The new CBS series So Help Me Todd may not be filmed in Portland, but creator Scott Prendergast says the city of roses was a major inspiration for the comedy-drama, which stars Skylar Astin (“Pitch Perfect”) and Oscar-winning Winner stars Marcia Gay Harden as a son and mother who work together at a Portland law firm.

(“So Help Me Todd” premieres Thursday, September 29 at 9 p.m. on CBS. You can stream the show live at fubo TV that offers a free trial; The show will also continue to be streamed Outstanding plus.)

“My family has lived in Portland for ages, and Portland is such a big part of my life,” says Prendergast.

So Help Me Todd is set in Portland, and as Prendergast says, he deliberately added local references. While he drew on his relationship with his real-life mother in creating the characters of Todd (Astin) and Margaret Wright (Harden), other characters are fictional, though firmly based in Portland.

For example, on the show, Todd’s sister is a doctor at a Portland hospital (think OHSU). Other characters work for the Governor of Oregon, the Portland Trail Blazers, and a newspaper called The Portland Sentinel. .

Prendergast, 52, wanted the reporter character to work for The Oregonian, but that didn’t happen. “I think it was just legal and clearances,” he says.

So Help Me Todd will be shot in Vancouver, British Columbia, a hotspot for TV and film production as government incentives help producers save money.

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“I tried to get the show shot in Portland, but I couldn’t,” says Prendergast, calling from the show’s Los Angeles production office. “The Canadian dollar was too attractive.”

In the show’s pilot, Todd is a former private investigator who has hit rock bottom in his life after making some bad decisions and having his license revoked. His mother, Margaret, is a lawyer by the book who is not shy about giving advice to her children and is particularly upset with Todd.

Amid his mother’s stern statements that Todd must make a plan to live as a financially solvent adult, the two find a sudden turn in events. When Margaret’s husband goes missing, Todd uses his unconventional skills to find the missing man.

Without revealing exactly what’s happening – which involves a surveillance at a house in Gresham, a client accused of murder, and more – Margaret is so impressed with Todd’s unconventional approach and skills that she agrees to bring him into her firm as a private investigator .

The pilot grounds the back-and-forth that Todd and Margaret share, a tone that Prendergast says was inspired by playful detective series of the past, “throwback shows like ‘Hart to Hart’ or ‘Moonlighting’ or ‘Remington Steele’.” Like he says.

Prendergast was such a fan of “Moonlighting” — the series that brought together Cybill Shepherd as the owner of a faltering detective agency and Bruce Willis as a detective with an attitude of David Addison — that as a student at Wilson High School (now Ida B . Wells High School) “We did our own episode and I played David Addison. ‘So Help Me Todd’ is meant to be a homage to ‘Moonlighting’ where they solve crimes and argue.”

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So Help Me Todd - Gallery

Scott Prendergast is the creator of the CBS series So Help Me Todd. (Photo: Lindsay Siu/CBS)

So Help Me Todd contains elements inspired by Prendergast’s own experiences. After growing up in Hillsdale and graduating high school, he attended college at Columbia in New York City. Struggling to find acting and filmmaking work in New York, Prendergast returned to Portland “with his tail between his legs.” His mother worked as a real estate agent in an office in Windemere, and Prendergast worked there for a time as a “terrible” receptionist, he says.

Parallel to the plot of the So Help Me Todd pilot, Prendergast’s mother’s husband’s husband disappeared – his parents had divorced a few years earlier. Prendergast helped locate the missing man as his mother, and he acted as her own private investigator.

While So Help Me Todd is influenced by his life and family – a trait it shares with Prendergast’s 2007 film Kabluey, which draws from the filmmaker’s experience with his sister-in-law during her husband’s deployment in the National Guard Iraq emerged — there are other issues Prendergast would like to explore on the CBS show.

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Marcia Gay Harden and Skylar Astin star in So Help Me Todd. (Photo: Michael Courtney/CBS)

“I wanted the show to be set in Portland because I wanted to write about Portland,” says Prendergast, who now lives in Los Angeles with his family.

“Portland is made up of two cities,” says Prendergast. There’s the old Portland he grew up in, when his family lived off Terwiller Boulevard and people talked about eating out to Henry Thieles and the Carnival—both gone now.

“The Marcia Gay Harden character remembers old things about Portland, and the son is more connected to youth culture,” says Prendergast. “I know Portland is changing, there’s a whole new world of people, and there’s a new Portland with social and environmental activists and people who have come from different places.”

Although the city’s reputation has eroded in recent years, Prendergast says, “I love Portland and I wanted to project an image of Portland to the world as a fun, beautiful and exciting place. I’m hoping ‘So Help Me Todd’ is a hit so we can come down to Portland and shoot at Powell’s and I can have a pizzicato Caesar salad.”

“So Help Me Todd” premieres Thursday, September 29 at 9 p.m. on CBS; It can also be streamed live and on-demand on Paramount+.

—Kristi Turnquist

503-221-8227; [email protected]; @Kristiturnquist

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