‘So Help Me Todd’s’ Disappearing Husband Plot Was Inspired by The Producer’s Real Life

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“So Help Me Todd” made its debut on CBS Thursday night and for anyone who saw the episode and thought, “That couldn’t happen,” well, the show’s jaw-dropping plot is rooted in creator/executive producer Scott Prendergast’s own experiences.

In the premiere episode, Joan (Marcia Gay Harden) enlists the help of her son Todd (Skyler Astin) – despite him being somewhat adrift in his life – to help her out when her husband disappears, like, without a trace. 

“It is very personal to me,” Prendergast, who created the series, told TheWrap. “There was a time in my early 30s when my life was falling apart and I was trying to get into entertainment. I had just turned 30, I guess. … I had been doing various things.”

Prendergast had moved back to Portland from New York after his career wasn’t taking off. After some son/mother friction, he told his mom he was moving to Los Angeles, to make “an independent film starring Lisa Kudrow.” 

“And my mom was like, ‘You are an idiot; you need health insurance; you need to get a regular job. And I was like, ‘You don’t believe in me!’ And we had this huge fight. And then we weren’t speaking for a few weeks,” he said, which is similar to the relationship Todd has with his mom in the pilot of the CBS show.

Eventually, the Prendergast and his mother started speaking again when his mom and her husband were planning a trip to Greece and she wanted him to take them to the airport. Not long after that request though, things got weird with his mother calling to tell him her husband was missing.

“I sprung into action. And I saw that my mom was very upset,” Prendergast said. “So, I spent two weeks playing detective with my mom, and we were on a stakeout, and we were all over Portland trying to figure out what was going on.”

Eventually Prendergast solved the mystery locally, while the show saw Todd finding Harry (“Mad Men’s Mark Moses) after he’s boarded an international flight to flee the country for good, to live out the rest of his days without Joan. 

The unbelievable story, though, provided Prendergast with the fodder for what became “So Help Me Todd.” “As it was happening, I just kept thinking ‘This would make such a great TV show,’” he laughed.

“I was like, ‘A mother and son fighting crime, basically. So like if the mother was a lawyer and the son was a private detective,’” he said. “When I saw ‘The Good Wife’ for the first time, that was the first time I had seen the concept of the in-house investigator. … So, when I pitched the show to CBS, I said, ‘What if we take Alicia and Kalinda, make them mother and son and have them do ‘Moonlighting’ and have a lot of banter between them and, you know, characters will never get together because they’re mother and son, and it’ll just be like a crime fighting show with a mother and son. And that’s what we’re doing.”

Prendergast admitted his mother is “not thrilled” that their story inspired the show, but she is happy he is “having success.” 

“What actually happened was her husband disappeared and I stepped in to help her find him. And I actually found him and she was so grateful when I did find him and solve this mystery of her life. And [at] the end of it, she was like, ‘I believe in you; you can go to Hollywood and you can do whatever. Like, you should go and follow your dreams, pursue your dreams. You’re capable, you can do this. Look what you’ve done for me.’ So, she’s happy that I’m having success,” the EP explained. “She’s a little bit conflicted about the fact that our story is going to be the star of a television show on CBS. 

“And also, we’ve changed a lot of the details. My mother is not actually a lawyer. I’m not actually a private detective. But we did set it in a building in Portland that is not too far from where I grew up. And we’re name checking things all over Portland,” he continued. “And Portland is a big character in the show. And my mother is getting together with 15 of her friends to watch the premiere. She’s nervous about it. She’s nervous, but she also knows that it’s not her.”

One thing she is not nervous about though, Prendergast said, is the woman playing the character she inspired.

“My mom said, ‘Oh, well, Marcia Gay Harden. That’s a brilliant choice. I love that. I love her. Love her. I can’t wait for her to play me on television,’” Prendergast recounted. And for the record, Prendergast did go on to make a movie with Lisa Kudrow. It’s called “Kabluey” and came out in 2007.)

“So Help Me Todd” airs Thursday nights at 9 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.

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