“The Goldbergs” creator Adam F. Goldberg talks about the WrestleMania episode, how he cast Hulk Hogan and meeting The Ultimate Warrior’s family
Adam F. Goldberg likes ’80s wrestling more than you. This is simply something you will have to accept. But luckily, he’s putting his fandom to good use. As the creator of the hit ABC comedy “The Goldbergs,” which is based on his life, Goldberg has woven sports-entertainment into the fabric of his show’s DNA, even casting WWE Hall of Famer Bill Goldberg (no relation) in a recurring role as a gym teacher.
This week sees his greatest homage yet, an episode titled “WrestleMania” that is based on a childhood trip to WrestleMania IV and co-stars Hulk Hogan as himself. In advance of the episode’s airing, Adam got on the phone with WWE.com to talk about the true tale behind the episode, the Superstar he’d love to cast on the show, and an amazing story involving The Ultimate Warrior’s family. Let’s get to it.
WWE.COM: You’re a big wrestling fan, but it has taken seven seasons for “The Goldbergs” to go to WrestleMania. What took so long to get there?
ADAM F. GOLDBERG: Well, it’s funny. It’s one I’ve wanted to do for the first six years of the show but never really took a stab because I thought we’d just get a no. It’s really hard to sell anyone that’s not Sony who’s producing the show, that we want to take your IP and recreate it from the ’80s and do it for free. I always assumed if we approached WWE to recreate WrestleMania, we’d get a no. This year I said let’s just take a shot, and we were met with incredible enthusiasm. Maybe that’s because the show’s been on now for so long.
WWE.COM: The show is based on your life. Did you really go to WrestleMania when you were a kid?
ADAM F. GOLDBERG: I’m from Philly, and for my birthday — my birthday is April 2, so it’s over spring break — we went to Atlantic City and saw WrestleMania IV. It was probably one of the best days of my life. I went with my dad and my brother, and, of course, in the episode we meet Hulk Hogan. That never happened, that was more wish fulfillment. But if you’re doing a WrestleMania episode, you have to meet somebody awesome. But it really is a true story. I had two older brothers growing up, so if you grow up with older brothers, all you do is fight and wrestle. In my house, wrestling was such a big deal. We convinced my dad to go to Atlantic City and see WrestleMania, and he bought the worst seats in the house. So that’s where the starting point of the story was, and then of course it evolves and becomes something new. But it’s really a story of how my dad did not understand wrestling and did not get it at all and how we forced him to take us to WrestleMania back in the ’80s.
WWE.COM: Did he ever get it?
ADAM F. GOLDBERG: I think parents [today] grew up on wrestling. They get it. That’s why it’s maintained such a big fanbase because you now have parents that are growing up who once were wrestling fans as kids and are still fans or rediscovering it through their kids, and that makes them nostalgic. But back then, in the ’80s, my dad didn’t grow up with wrestling of any kind. When we would watch it, he would just kind of roll his eyes and say, “Let’s watch something else.” He did not get it at all. I think going [to WrestleMania], the hope was that he would finally get it, but it never came around. He was a hard man to convince, much like on the show. We tried.
WWE.COM: Tell us how you went about getting Hulk Hogan on the episode. Was he your first choice?
ADAM F. GOLDBERG: For me, it would have been Ultimate Warrior because he was my favorite growing up. I was Ultimate Warrior; Barry was Hulk. We each had our character. But obviously Ultimate Warrior passed away, so it was just kind of a no-brainer. If you want an ’80s wrestling superstar, you go to Hulk. The real issue was money, flying him out, putting him up. I essentially just moved heaven and earth to just pay him to come out. Luckily, he knew about the show and was really excited to recreate ’80s, old-school wrestling. He was receptive, but as always when you’re in a production, when you’re already creating WrestleMania, it’s so expensive. It was just a matter of convincing Sony to get him out here. They were really good partners on that episode.
WWE.COM: You’ve had Bill Goldberg on the show, and now you’ve had Hogan. If you got the chance to cast a WWE Superstar in a future episode, who do you pick, who do they play, and why?
ADAM F. GOLDBERG: Oh my God, that’s a great question. Well let me just talk about Goldberg for a second before I answer that. He is a regular, recurring [character] on the show. What I realized in casting him is that these guys are really good actors. Goldberg goes 100 percent in every scene. It’s really impressive. The thing about comedy is you really have to put your ego aside and try and look silly. That’s when it works. That’s always the fear: “Oh, we’re gonna get this guy here, and he doesn’t get the joke.” Or, “He doesn’t want to go all out.” From moment one, his comic instincts are so great. You look at these guys like Dave Bautista; they’re willing to just go for the joke and look ridiculous. So really, when we cast him it was just as a one shot, like, he’s gonna be the new gym teacher. And he was so funny that we were like, ‘Oh. He’s a legitimate comedic actor.’ Working with him has been so cool.
And again: My last name is Goldberg, I was in high school in the ‘90s, every T-shirt I had growing up was a “Who’s Next?” Goldberg T-shirt. To get to work with one of your idols from when you were a teenager has just been so cool. We’re actually developing a TV show together, which I think will be really fun if I ever get the time to pitch it. Okay, so the question was who would it be from WWE today?
WWE.COM: Yeah. Who would you cast, who would they play and why?
ADAM F. GOLDBERG: Here’s one that would be really fun: Right now, I’m working on “Schooled,” which is the spinoff show. And we’re talking about, growing up, our wrestling coach was really young, probably in his late 20s, super handsome and he was like the cool teacher that everyone went to. We were talking about, “What if there’s a cool new wrestling coach?” And I was like, “Oh, The Miz would be great for that.” You could picture him being the cool teacher who you want to impress, which I think is a really interesting dynamic. Because teachers, you usually roll your eyes at, but there’s always that one teacher that you’re like, “That guy’s awesome! I want to party with that guy.” So, I think that would be really fun casting.
WWE.COM: It does seem like wrestling is an important backbone of the show. Have you ever had any interaction with Superstars besides the ones you’ve cast?
ADAM F. GOLDBERG: I do want to say the best moment I’ve had on this show in six years. Because wrestling was such a big part of my life growing up, in Season 1 we did an episode called “A Wrestler Named Goldberg,” which was Barry joins the wrestling team. Bev doesn’t really want him to, because she’s afraid he’ll get hurt, and in order to stop him, she wrestles him in front of the entire school. So, that opens with me being Ultimate Warrior and my brother being Hulk Hogan. I had the video, and the real-life video of us doing that, and at the end I dedicated the whole episode to Ultimate Warrior. I had to go to WWE for permission to even show his photograph, but then I got a call from his family, his wife; he had two daughters. And it was probably the most amazing moment from the entire show.
You have certain childhood heroes. He was my childhood hero, and I pretended to be him. He had probably passed away a couple months before, and I got a call from his wife, just randomly. Someone came in, like, “The Ultimate Warrior’s wife is on the phone?” and I was like, “What?” And she said my show, at that time, for her family and her daughters, was appointment TV because he would watch the show for the first season and just belly-laugh. He would yell for the kids to come watch the show with him. When he passed away, the fact that I dedicated an episode to him without even knowing any of this, [she said] this was a sign that he was saying, “Everything is going to be OK.” Because it was like I was talking to the family.
So they came out and they visited, I put them in a scene, they dressed up in ’80s clothes. It was really special. Because it was so tragic, and it was the first good thing that happened to the family because this was his show. And just randomly, I happened to be an Ultimate Warrior superfan. And that was really the first time for me where I’m like, “Okay, this show is speaking to people.” Because it was right in the beginning; it was Season 2. We were right on the bubble. We didn’t even know if we were going to get picked up. So that was probably the most amazing thing that’s happened the entire run of the series for me. Which was, that whole experience of getting in touch with that family and having them say, “This show was important to him, and it’s a way for us to have something really positive when everything’s been hard.”