Little People, Big Comeback: Our Interview With Matt Roloff

When we last saw Matt Roloff and family, there were issues. Would he and Amy stay together? Would they sell the farm and, if they did, what would become of that awesome pirate ship? Not the usual reality television dysfunctional family fest, Little People, Big World was endearingly sweet and genuine, the kind of people you didn't feel ashamed to be voyeuristically tuning in to watch every week like a creep lurking in their shrubbery.

One year after pulling up stakes on TLC, the Roloff family is coming back on their own terms to update us on the their lives. The family patriarch, Matt Roloff, took some time out of his busy day to chat with us.

Well first off, how are you?
I'm well thank you! We are off and running.

So the Roloffs are back on TLC for a series of specials to update all the fans. How does it feel to be back at it again?
Well actually it's great and it feels like the perfect solution with the perfect schedule. It took over a year to figure this out, so it was something that was thought about talked about and agonized over and prayed about. We knew at some point we couldn't continue to go on with this grueling schedule that we had for the first five or six years, but at the same time we knew that we had a lot of committed people who were interested in what we were doing, so how can we share updates and share our life in a way that also makes sense for us and a return to some normalcy? And TLC has just been an incredible organization to work with. We've been through several management evolutions and such things and the culture of that company has been consistently supportive of our family and our needs, giving us space when we need space and so we were able to figure out a win-win situation where we are filming forty days over a year as opposed to 320 that we used to do. So we've got it down to where it is a really good balance and some normalcy in our family and at the same time share our lives with everybody.

That's kind of a relief because you went for essentially six consecutive seasons which means there are cameras in your house twenty-four-seven with very few breaks. There are a lot of people who watched the show because it was entertaining, but it was also a little inspirational without being preachy. How do you keep that balance or likeability factor when so many shows become exploitive or just go over the edge?
Internally, it was definitely a stress and a strain on the family toward the end and I think we showed that on camera. There was a lot of question about whether Amy and I were going to be able to stay together and a lot of those stresses were related to the problems of production, but we were able to work with TLC and start in a year earlier trying to figure out how we could re-balance it. Obviously TLC is a business and they have advertisers to report to and Amy and I were in a space where we were like, "How do we run this thing down to a more logical amount of time?" How do you manage to keep your family so your whole life isn't about filming? How do you go back to this after you've gone back to being who you are and true to yourself and true to your family? When the show stopped production last year, I was able to take Jacob to the mall a lot more often. Little stuff. Spending time going to a movie with your kid isn't really TV-friendly and there aren't many shows about going to sit with your kid in the theater for two hours, but that's an important thing to be able to do. And soccer games. There's only so much soccer they can show on air or doing homework. Watching TV and reading a book is good for about ten seconds of show time. so we definitely had to adjust our normalcy to cater to the production process. And people don't really think about the fact that you are living in a little bit of a bubble of things that aren't normally what you would be doing per se.

It seems like you guys put the brakes on when you wanted to put them on and that's a good position to be in but at the end of the last season you left quite a few cliffhangers for the viewers. Are we going to see some resolutions to those?
You are going to get answers to all those questions absolutely, but I'm not sure how intentional that was or not, it's just where we were in life. But certainly there were some cliffhangers and some open-ended questions and they were all real but I'm not going to answer all the questions because then no one would watch the specials!

One of the hardest things for me, I have a very active Facebook fan page, is where I get on there every night and I try to give updates and it's really hard because the people are like, "You're just teasing us!" about big stuff I'm working on and next week everyone's going to know about it, but it's one of those things where you sign a nondisclosure and you've got to keep things to yourself. So we have a number of big developments in our lives that are very exciting and we want to share but they just have to take the time and happen through the course of a process. That's always hard because you have exciting news that you want to share but sometimes you have to wait and let it work out because of a contractual obligation you might have or it being aired on our show. We definitely have big things going on in the works, sometimes they don't develop into what you hope for but sometimes they do.

Watching your show it's obvious you did a tremendous amount to promote the cause of little people and many other causes that your family considered important. But after awhile it was interesting that the fact you were a little person kind of melted away and people just genuinely liked you guys as a family. You seemed so nonplussed about things that were difficult for you as a little person that the viewers didn't see that aspect anymore. Do you think that is why your show remained so popular while interest in other series sort of waned?
I think so and I think there was some conscious decision on the productions part and TLC'S part, they are very smart people and I think well--Amy and I like to say it this way--we went through three major phases in doing six years of production. The first phase was really educating society about little people. We were desensitizing and making people say, "I don't even realize that he's little anymore" and we really wanted to achieve that goal. Make it so that people just saw me as a crazy pumpkin farmer who was trying to raise a family with the same issues and problems and challenges as everyone else. Then we went through a process toward the third of fourth season where we were like, "Hey, we need to focus on our own financial security and the kids' college funds and things like that were really important to us." Then toward the fourth and fifth season we went through a process like, "What can we do to give back and leverage this opportunity we've been given by God and our fans?" So we founded a charity called Coda and we've been involved in various giving programs before the show but we really wanted to step it up and try to see if we could give back to the community and what have you.

During that process, TLC subsequently and simultaneously started to say in the first season, I remember a lot of  "as a little person, it's difficult to do this" and "as a little person it's difficult to do that" and by the second season we were like, "We don't need to even say little person anymore; people get that." So it became "as a father" or "as a husband" trying to pitch this or juggle my financial responsibilities, the family and my own creative aspirations.

Kind of effortless, and it's great for all the causes you promoted.
It was great to be in a position where we could advance a cause, educate, and desensitize people. We've gotten so many emails from so many little people around the world that say, "Hey, it's kind of cool to be a little person now." Of course, there is a whole army of people who have gone before us, great individuals and whole communities that have done outreach type of programs and gone into schools and talked long before we did the show. But certainly our show has helped to solidify that there is just a little difference, it's just a size thing but really we have the same sort of heart and hopes that everyone else does. Amy and I feel blessed and honored that we have helped in some small way, but in reality we give credit to those who have gone before us.

Are you shocked by the dedication of your very large fan base? I went on a few of the discussion forums to see what was brewing and while most conversations were great, there were a few fiery ones.
You know what though, those people help us. You've got to have controversy! Are we appreciative of our fan base? Absolutely! And most people take the show for what it is and understand that there is an entertainment value. Some people take things too literally and people write things sometimes that just aren't true and you want to jump in and say, "Wait a minute, let me correct that because my sons don't have this problem or that problem!" or whatever and sometimes it is true. But the good news is if that helps our show to be popular and appeal to a broader audience from the intrigue and curiosity of where the truth lies, then so be it. There have been times that we've tried to set the truth straight but we've learned that you can't correct the record. There are always going to be people who are going to want to be negative and blame you for this and accuse you of that and most times it makes us smile because often it's stuff that's not true. It comes with the territory but it also advances our cause, being able to educate society and broaden our audience. One thing that's really good about this is my kids have grown super duper thick skin. You can call them any name in the book and they are totally able to turn the other cheek. I'm the one that becomes the most upset because it's my job as a dad.

I thought your kids were incredibly resilient to start with and they did a lot of growing up over the show's run. I remember being that age and can't imagine having the skill set to make all the mistakes I made while millions watched me stumble along.
Our kids are really really good kids and they are super resilient and super strong and they've become even stronger from the process. That is why we as a family got together and said TLC has come to us and do you want to share updates and everybody unanimously voted and said yeah we're ready dad but we just want to make sure that we don't go back to the same grueling schedule we had before let's tone down. So we came up with a schedule and TLC said, "Great" and it's been wonderful that we could come together on moving this thing forward very cautiously and very measured.

Have you wrapped filming on these specials?
We are actually filming today but I cut out just long enough to make these calls. We are trying to get as many as we can during the nicer weather of the summer, but we are working on the specials right now, getting the pieces put together. It's an ongoing process.

Without giving away any huge secrets, what else are you working on these days?
That's the hard part! Well I'm going to be a special guest on a show that I can't really talk about but it will be fun to do and it's on a major network so that will be coming up in a few weeks. Kind of a cameo but you never know if you are going to end up on the editing room floor so...

I've got a couple of other projects that I'm working on, everything from helping a producer do a scripted special, a feature film where I'll play a small role, some potential reality stuff. Some neat projects that I've been fortunate enough to be invited to be a part of that are in development. I also do a LOT of speaking. I love to go out and speak to people. So much of what we've done has kind of been through the lens of a camera and you get people coming up to you in the airport like, "Matt! Matt!" and they almost feel like they know us but we don't know them and when we speak to people it's great because afterwards we get to meet people and shake their hands and do Q&A. Amy and I both have many speaking opportunities and we go into a lot of colleges and are able to connect with people on a more personal level. We've got some great news about the pumpkin patch at the farm that we are getting ready to announce shortly but I'm just short of being able to say anything about it.

That's okay, I don't want to get you in trouble. I love that farm, my kids are still complaining that we don't have a medieval castle and a pirate ship in our backyard and that is probably all your fault. Your relentless energy and good ideas are at fault anyway.
Yeah, all because you didn't build your own castle! I can say that we have a significant expansion of our pumpkin business going on so that will be fun and I've been working on a stagecoach, just cool stuff that I'm into and that I enjoy and that I'm able to share with our guests that come through here. We're staying busy no doubt about that.

Time for the Culture Brats 3, are you ready?

Thriller or Purple Rain?
Absolutely Michael Jackson's Thriller. I'm a huge Michael Jackson fan!

Pretty In Pink or 16 Candles?
Oh I'm not sure if I saw the first one, but 16 Candles I definitely remember that. What was the first one again?

Pretty In Pink.
OK, I'm going with 16 Candles.

Debbie Gibson or Tiffany?
Debbie who?

Oh boy, I have no idea. This is like Jeopardy, I can't get one single question right. But I will tell you this as far as pop culture goes. You know you've made it into pop culture when they mention you on a scripted television show or jeopardy category and Little People, Big World has managed to do that. Someone sent me a picture or a clip with the message that we'd officially arrived at pop culture status.

So the first special airs October 2nd on TLC correct?
Yes and they are really emotionally charged and getting back to basics with some real life stuff going on so I think people are really going to enjoy them.

Thank you for talking with us today, I'll be tuning in!

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