Dan Fogelman devised the concept of the series, which was originally developed for Fox in 2007 under the title "My Fellow Zabvronians." A writer's strike put the kibosh on the filming of a pilot and the network ultimately dropped their option on the show. Fogelman, meanwhile, got distracted by his film career, racking up hits like Bolt, Tangled, Cars 2 and Crazy Stupid Love.
With a firmly-established relationship with Disney, parent company to ABC, Fogelman re-pitched the concept under the title Down to Earth. It was described as a sitcom about "a New Jersey family that moves into a gated community occupied exclusively by extraterrestrials." ABC picked up the pilot episode of The Neighbors in October 2011, with a pilot commitment. In May 2012, the show renamed to The Neighbors, and production of the program was green-lit.
Fogelman conceived The Neighbors after visiting his mother, who lived in a gated townhouse community, and stated, "you could reach out my mom's bathroom window and touch her neighbor's bathroom window", but they never spoke to or knew each other, and the idea was "who are these people that she's living between?", and what if they were all aliens? He claimed that family is the best part of humanity, and he kept "exploring stuff". Fogelman wants The Neighbors to be a show that "the whole family can watch together". He said, "It's high concept but I do want to ground it as a family sitcom."
The show's premise has been described as "goofy", and has been considered as a "high-concept" show by Entertainment Weekly. At the semi-annual press tour in Beverly Hills, ABC Entertainment President Paul Lee stated that The Neighbors has "high-concept nature", but "love[d]" it. The Neighbors was originally stated to premiere at 9:30 p.m. on Wednesday, but ABC decided to air it in 8:30 time interval. In response to this, Lee claimed that "8:30 p.m. suited the show better" as "there's so much pressure [to perform] after Modern Family". The 9:30 p.m. slot was replaced with Suburgatory. Lee wants it to be on the air for a long time, and claimed that Suburgatory would better fit in the 9:30 slot. Lee praised Fogelman, calling him a "wondering writer"; he thinks he will give a "smart piece of storytelling".
The single-camera comedy was originally produced for ABC Studios and Warner Bros. Television, but Warner Bros. Television was replaced by company Kapital Entertainment. Dan Fogelman, Chris Koch, Jeff Morton, and Aaron Kaplan executive produce the series. Chris Koch signed on to direct the pilot episode, which was written by Fogelman.
In December 2011, Jami Gertz, Simon Templeman, Toks Olagundoye, and Tim Jo obtained roles in the series. It was announced that Gertz would play Debbie Weaver, the matriarch of the human family; Templeman would play Larry Bird, the leader of the aliens; Olagundoye was cast as Jackie Joyner Kersee, the matriarch of the lead alien family; and Jo would appear as Reggie Jackson, the son of the alien family. Larry Bird, the lead alien, was originally to be named Wilt Chamberlain.
In January 2012, Clara Mamet, Max Charles, and Isabella Cramp garnered roles in the series, Mamet as the teenage daughter and Charles and Cramp as her younger siblings. Later that month, Lenny Venito obtained the lead role as Marty Weaver, the father of the human family.
The Neighbors initially received negative treatment from critics, but gained increasing critical praise as the season aired, which led to the "It's OK to say you like it!" commercial campaign. Writing for the San Francisco Chronicle, David Wiegand thought that The Neighbors did not look "promising" as it has a high-concept show. Wiegand compared it to the NBC science fiction comedy series 3rd Rock from the Sun, claiming that the series' creator made it so different from 3rd Rock from the Sun, that it is "weird". He stated that if The Neighbors garnered low ratings, it could possibly be replaced with Family Tools, an ABC comedy that is scheduled to air in mid-season. He compared it to other comedies set to air on the same channel writing that those are better than The Neighbors. According to Wiegand, The Neighbors seems like Outsourced, which aired for one season on NBC.
Other reviews were somewhat more positive. Dave Walker from The Times-Picayune thought that The Neighbors was a "fish-out-of-water"; he called it a "potentially comedic" show. Rob Owen, a Pittsburgh Post Gazette critic, claimed that he has "interest in high-concept shows"; he also "laughed a good bit at the pilot episode". His concern was "how long they can keep up the jokes. Seeing the unusual way aliens do the dishes in the pilot is hilarious. But that gag only works the first time. After that, it's stale.
The Neighbors premiered at 9:30 pm approximately on September 26, 2012 on ABC after Modern Family, before moving to its regular time slot at 8:30 p.m. after The Middle, the following week. In Canada, it originally aired on Saturday at 10:00 pm on CTV network in the fall of 2012 after the Crimetime Saturday block. It has since moved to sister network CTV Two on Wednesday nights at 8:30 p.m., allowing simsubbing over the ABC broadcast.