Few people in the world are true teen idols, but the Cassidy family managed to turn out two of them. David Cassidy came to fame in 1970 when he joined his real-life mother Shirley Jones on the TV series The Partridge Family. Seven years later, younger brother Shaun captured the hearts of teen girls everywhere as half of TV’s Hardy Boys.
Now, 30-plus years later, the boys are ready to laugh at themselves, and you get to laugh right along with them. It’s a look inside the world of a former rock idol who needs to learn that there are more important things in life than fame and fortune.
It’s ABC Family’s newest comedy, Ruby and the Rockits, and I got to visit with the cast on set last week. Come on along…
Many people in this world wouldn’t choose to work with family, but that’s exactly what the Cassidy brothers have done. Shaun Cassidy, who has been producing such shows as Invasion and American Gothic, came up with the idea.
“I wanted to do a show that had brothers. This duo thing is really funny because most of them don’t get along, and yet they’re stuck working together. You know, Oates doesn’t do very well without Hall — Garfunkel without Simon — and I just think that’s a funny dynamic, especially if you’ve got brothers. There’s all this history that you can mine for laughs and emotion. I pitched that to ABC Family; they’re developing this market that’s aimed at teenagers and their parents, which is the only network really doing that. So, we’re thrilled to be here.”
The series revolves around a rock duo from the 80s who have gone in very different directions. Patrick settled down to raise a family and makes a good living selling cars. David is still struggling to stay in the spotlight, singing in an Indian casino and still living the life of a rock star as best he can.
Quick-witted Patrick Cassidy picks up the story. “Originally, it was David playing the domestic dad with the kids who were talented musicians. And me being kind of the crazy brother who’s still on the road and doesn’t really want to grow up. After the meeting [with ABC Family], they said, ‘We love the idea, and we want to be a part of this; however, we have one small little adjustment. We’d like David and Patrick to switch parts.” It was purely on, I guess, our personalities, I mean, David’s a father, but he is much more the guy on the road and I’m a stay-at-home dad. And so, yeah, the original idea just got flip-flopped. But it’s worked out great.”
The engine that makes the show run is the arrival of Ruby (Spy Kids star Alexa Vega), the teenage daughter David never knew he had. She has nowhere to go, so David convinces his brother Patrick to take her in.
In the series, Patrick has two boys, Jordan (Austin Butler) and Ben (Kurt Doss), who, together with Ruby, make up the kid-friendly side of the series. To them, having former rock stars as parents is normal, even amusing. In real life, the three young stars have a great time together on set, with young Kurt at the center of many pranks.
Kurt says of his on-screen brother, “He’s a little bit of an easy target. I found a bra inside our dressing room. I picked it up and I thought, ‘This gives me ideas.’ So, I taped it to [Austin’s] door. And I wrote a note on the bra: ‘Wardrobe said you dropped this. Your loving brother, Ben.’”
For the kids on the show, working with Alexa Vega is more of a trip than working with the famous Cassidy brothers. There are numerous references to their mothers and grandmothers, and Kurt laughing about the “old women” who come to the Friday night tapings to swoon — and David takes it all in stride.
Ruby & The Rockits airs on ABC Family, appropriately enough!”It is not a kid show, you know — it’s not. Kids love it. They come every week, [and] they like [it]. I think that has a lot to do with Alexa and with Austin. And I’m sure their grandmothers have told them about me.”
It’s 5 o’clock in the evening, and David’s been up since 4:30 am and in every scene of the day. Still, he’s happy to sit and talk with us and even pose for pictures. As we come up to him, he asks our names, makes that eye contact and takes another few seconds to chat. He’s warm and charming and not at all the diva he plays on TV.
The feeling around the set is relaxed but professional. Brother Shaun sits behind the monitors with his partner Marsh McCall (Just Shoot Me) laughing at the jokes that land and jumping in for a quick fix when things don’t work out as planned. He’s thrilled about the project now but admits that he wasn’t always so sure.
“Frankly, I was very, very nervous. David and I worked together, like, 15 years ago on Broadway in a show called ‘Blood Brothers,’ which is the last time I acted. And I didn’t even want to do that, frankly. But, you know, we’re drawing on autobiographical stuff in this show, and we’re kind of making fun of ourselves.
“David is a character, and so that aspect of it is pulled from life. And I’m not a car salesman but, at least by show business standards, I’ve taken a more conventional road than continuing to be a performer, which I’m very happy about. And David has continued to go out and play various casinos and other things, so a lot of it is true. And a lot of it is genuinely funny, and we need to be very careful about boundaries. You know, it’s easier for [Marsh] to give David an acting note than it is for me to give David an acting note. And Patrick, too.”
“At the end of the day,” says producing partner McCall, “I get to drive home and then I’m done with it. He’s not so lucky.”
Ryan Cassidy works as the show’s set designer, and he has no qualms at all about spending 14-hour days with his brothers. “It’s a little surreal actually, because I’ve been doing this for so many years on different shows. To go to work and see all your siblings is great, actually. And I’m very grateful for it because it’s a once-in-a-lifetime kind of opportunity.”
Brother Patrick butts in to say, “And he had already worked with the Osmonds and the Gibbs, so he needed to try the blood.”
As showbiz families go, the Cassidy’s have turned out pretty well as a whole. They all say they owe their success to their mother Shirley, who attends every Friday-night taping of Ruby and the Rockits.
Katie Keane plays Patrick’s wife on the series, and she has the rare opportunity of watching the family dynamic play out on a daily basis. “I wish I had some dirt, but they’re really genuine, amazing people. We talk all the time about how we see so many people who grew up in showbiz, and they’re just disasters because of the life that they’ve lived and the privilege that they’ve had. But it’s a great tribute to Shirley how amazing these guys are and how sensitive and warm. And the bond is just fantastic, you know. It’s pretty cool.”
The boys’ father, TV star Jack Cassidy, passed away many years ago, but his presence is still felt on set.
Says Ryan, “Our father did a show on this very lot in 1968, a sit-com called He and She, where he played a character named Jet Man, a guy in this kind of crazy outfit. So it’s kind of ironic that this show is on this lot now.”
“There is a sense that he’s sort of looking down on all of us,” says Patrick, who credits their father’s passing as part of the reason for the strong family bond. “I think losing our father at the age that we did, all of us — that was the first moment where we all really bonded together, just like I think any family would if they lost a parent at that age.
“It forced us to have to rely on one another, even though our personalities are very different, and we see things in terms of how we were brought up. But that was, I think, the defining moment where we all thought we had to pull together not just for my mother’s sake, but for ourselves.”
Suddenly, something flies by Patrick’s face. Then another. It’s candy being thrown at him from the stage floor by — no, not 12-year-old Kurt, but by brother Shaun — you know, the executive producer of the show.
The day has come to an end, and David gets the parting words. “So, you’re here. You saw the process, and I’ve never had as much fun doing anything. This is the best thing I’ve ever done, in my opinion. It’s the best role I’ve ever had, the best cast I’ve ever worked with. Every person on this show can deliver the punch line. You know — bottom of the ninth, two outs, bases loaded, you’re down three runs — pop, boom. And it feels so good to have that kind of support and to genuinely like all of the people you work with.”
A lot of people say it, but after a day on the set of Ruby and the Rockits, I believe it. Check out the show on ABC Family.