For fans of TLC's "Little People, Big World," the past four seasons have shown that little people such as the Oregon-based Roloff family have limitless dreams and ambition to make their lives just as compelling and heartfelt as anyone else's. For parents Matt and Amy, who happen to be dwarfs, and their four children (Zack being the only offspring that is also a dwarf), going into season five shows a lot of growing pains for everyone in the Roloff family. Co-executive producer Jeff Weaver talked to our Jim Halterman about the changes as not only the kids get older but Matt and Amy also see change in both their many endeavors and their relationship as well as what the appeal of the half-hour series really is with audiences.
Jim Halterman: Can you tell me how the Roloff family came to you in the first place?
Jeff Weaver: It all went back to 2003. There was a casting reel and a pilot presentation had been produced by GRP and the early efforts showed an interesting family but they hadn't quite found their niche yet but I think it was in 2005 it actually became a pilot at Discovery and they produced a one hour pilot called "Little People, Big Dreams" and that pilot sort of blossomed into, transitioned into the TLC series that we now know as "Little People, Big World" and that was 2006 so it was a three-year journey to get the series on the air. When you think about going all the way back six years and Jacob, who is turning 12 this season... half of his life has been spent in front of the camera.
JH: The appeal seems to really be more about the family and their strong personality and very little to do with their size. Do you agree?
JW: I do. When the series first began, I think a lot of people tuned in because they wanted to see what it was like to be a dwarf, to be a little person in a big world. Now that we've been on the air for so long, I think people stay tuned because the Roloffs are a very relatable family. They have their challenges and obstacles in life that have nothing to do with being a little person and those just as interesting to explore as the little people type.
JH: There's such a heart to the show, especially the second episode airing about the kids going to their winter formal. Is that heart part of the appeal of the show?
JW: I think that the Roloffs are a very, very loving family and I think that we on the show who end up producing the show, we really respond to that. When we see material and we see scenes coming in from the family where it's very clear that they have a very, very strong bond and they're doing things together and they're going through experiences that we can all relate to, I think that touches our hearts as all. We love the fact that we get to tell a really warm story in our show.
JH: Zach's acne was part of the story and it was something everyone can relate to!
JW: I guess you can call that, in our case, we take a "zits and all" approach in this show. [Laughs.]
JH: There must be some relief that there is much less drama that some other TLC shows that shall remain nameless, right?
JW: I can definitely say that every relationship, especially a 22-year marriage, is going to have its day-to-day challenges and is going to have some big picture paradigm shifts that happen across the course of the relationship and we're seeing that this season with Matt and Amy and their kids growing up and Amy is realizing "Hey, I'm not the full-time mom that I used to be. I need to start looking around and figuring out what else is going to happen in my life." Matt is Matt, as ever. He always has projects and he has his ideas, plans and schemes but I think Amy is really taking a sincere and major look at what is going to be changing for her in her life and how that impacts her relationship with Matt.
JH: When I was doing some research on the web, the Roloffs have quite a list of business endeavors going on. Were those things going on before the show or has the show been a launch pad for them?
JW: I can really say that everything that they're doing now they were doing before the show. I think that they both had done public speaking before the show, the farm business was already well on the way before the show, Matt's DAS (Direct Access Solution, his accessibility business) was on the way. Obviously having some degree of a spotlight shown on what they're doing has had some impact but the core and the heart of their everyday endeavors are still essentially the same.
JH: For a group of kids that have grown up on television, the Roloff children seem so balanced. How would you say the experience has been for them?
JW: I think they are very balanced. I think that Amy and Matt have done a really good job at trying to keep their life as normal as possible. And, given the circumstances of having cameras around a lot, they've actually created a world for their kids where they can grow up, have friends, do normal things and still share their story with an audience.
JH: I couldn't help noticing that Jeremy has become something of a sex symbol as he's reaching adulthood.
JW: For the last year or two, Jeremy has been taking really good care of his physique and we all noticed that he has come into his own in terms of body image. He's an attractive young man and he doesn't mind popping his shirt off occasionally with the cameras, as well.
JH: Zach's health has frequently been a story point in the show and it looks like he's going to have some problems this season as well. Can you talk about that?
JW: Being a little person comes with its own set of health challenges as well as the social and physical challenges. Zach has had multiple surgeries in his life and he most recently had a very major leg surgery that we featured in our second season. Through the course of shooting the fifth season he had had some significant hearing loss and he went in for a check-up and it was discovered that he was going to need ear surgery and this is definitely related to his particular type of dwarfism. When he actually went in for surgery, it was discovered that what they thought was going to be a very minor surgery ended up a lot more involved and a more complicated procedure than they had originally thought. That sort of traumatically plays across that episode.
JH: Since you're gotten to know the family so well, is there anything they are not afraid of?
JW: I have to say this family is fearless. They're fearless about their lives. They will attack any challenge or obstacle that comes their way. They all have an adventurous spirit. They all have a sense of competition that I think is very healthy for them and it helps them tackle obstacles. This is quite another type of fearlessness but they're also fearless about sharing their story. They really allow us in fully and completely into their lives. I think over the years we've really established a relationship of trust with them and they trust us to share their story in a way that they're okay with. Monday night we have this wonderful episode called "Downhill Dwarf" and we see Matt getting the news that he needs some serious spinal surgery at some point in the future so Matt starts checking off his bucket list. One of his big desires is to go skiing and with his type of dwarfism... you can tell he's severely disabled physically and you would not think that a person with his type of disability could ski and it's pretty amazing to watch his first run in quite a long time.
"Little People, Big World" airs every Monday night with back-to-back episodes at 8:00/7:00c on TLC.