Hopes ‘Rise’ on a school’s theater department in NBC series

New series is based on actual high-school program

Josh Radnor, Auli’i Cravalho, Damon J. Gillespie and Rosie Perez are among the stars of “Rise,” premiering Tuesday, Mar. 13, on NBC.

Though “Rise” tells its own story, and largely a fact-based one, NBC wouldn’t mind a “Glee” level of success with its similarly themed new series.

Getting a “preview” premiere Tuesday, March 13, after the season finale of “This Is Us” (whose slot it will move into), the drama-with-music casts “How I Met Your Mother” alum Josh Radnor as a teacher who assumes responsibility for his school’s theater department … changing many lives, particularly those of students, in the process. Jason Katims (“Friday Night Lights,” “Parenthood”) and Jeffrey Seller (Broadway’s “Hamilton”) are among the executive producers.

“Shows that are very character-driven and have a deep sort of emotional core to them, those are definitely the shows that not only appeal to me as a viewer, but also the kinds of stories I like to tell,” Katims reasons. “I think that having shows like ‘This Is Us’ has helped that. To be able to be on the network with ‘This Is Us’ and to have our first episode air after their finale is an incredible opportunity for us.”

Josh Radnor stars in “Rise,” premiering Tuesday, Mar. 13, on NBC.

Noting that “Rise” depicts “the world I grew up in,” Radnor says he felt he received an early sign of approval of his doing the show. He reflects, “I had a teacher, Harlene Marley, who was my advisor at Kenyon College. She was just this wonderful, wonderful woman, and she died about two weeks before we started filming this pilot.

“There was a prop cart that had all of these plays on it on my very first day of filming, and there was ‘Rumors’ by Neil Simon, which I did at Kenyon. I hadn’t seen a copy of it since I did it in college, and I was leafing through it and I realized that Harlene had directed me in this play. And it was such a weird, mystical moment. I felt like she had just kissed me on the forehead and told me that this was great.”

NBC literally is putting its money where its mouth is with “Rise” through an initiative called “Rise America,” which is making financial contributions to high-school theater programs across America, not unlike the Pennsylvania one that inspired the series.

With Rosie Perez also in the ensemble cast, the “Rise” co-stars playing students include Auli’i Cravalho, who voiced the title character in the animated Disney movie “Moana.” The teen singer-actress deems much of her own story like that of her “Rise” character Lilette.

““She grows up in a single-parent household, as I have,” says Cravalho. “She has big dreams, but grows up in a small town; for me, it was on a small island (in Hawaii). For her, it’s in a small, tiny place that also kind of resembles a small mindset – which is something that she doesn’t want for herself, but something that she’s used to other people putting on her.”

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin has decades of experience covering the television and movie businesses, winning Tribune Media Services’ Crown Jewel Award in 2008 for his performance in the company. Over those many years of interviewing and writing, he has spoken with everyone from Robert De Niro and John Travolta to Paul McCartney and Tony Bennett … from Meryl Streep and Julie Andrews to Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood.

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