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MTV's 'Faking It' Boss Defends Fake-Lesbian Premise, Talks Avoiding Stereotypes (Q&A)

"I think once people watch the show, they'll quickly realize that their preconceived notions of what the premise is are not accurate," showrunner Carter Covington tells THR.

Faking It Still with inset Carter Covington - H 2014
Courtesy of MTV/Getty Images

MTV's newest comedy Faking It tracks two best friends' desperate attempts at becoming popular by taking any avenues necessary.

Desperate to join Hester High's "in" crowd, best friends Karma (Katie Stevens) and Amy (Rita Volk) try everything in their power to gain social standing at the school. When their bids to break into the school's upper echelon fail miserably, a misunderstanding at a party leads them to take on the biggest ruse of their young lives: pretending that they're a lesbian couple. Factor in to the mix a popular and attractive boy, Liam (Gregg Sulkin), and things get messy quickly between the three -- "We've never seen a love triangle like this," showrunner/executive producer Carter Covington tells The Hollywood Reporter.

STORY: A Lesbian Reviews MTV's Faux-Gay Comedy 'Faking It'

The basic premise -- two BFFs mistakenly outed as lesbians catapulted to instant popularity -- has the potential to draw some ire. And Covington, who is openly gay, had the same concerns in the early stages of the show's development. "At first when I heard the idea, I could see the premise could be controversial if not handled in the right way," Covington says. In a chat with THR, Covington discusses his approach and challenges to Faking It's unique concept, the LGBT community's response and the characters he had the most difficulty getting right.

How did the idea for Faking It come about and how did you land on it being a comedy versus a drama?

[MTV] approached me with the basic premise with the title Faking It. At first when I heard the idea, I could see the premise could be controversial if not handled in the right way. I immediately started to think about my experiences in high school. I had crushes on my friends but could never express it, because I was in the closet. I started to think that a lot of people could relate to that experience of falling for someone, whether it's your best friend or the guy who sits across from you in class, and wishing they had the same feelings for you that you had. I told the network that would be my take on it. I pitched them this idea of a high school where this lesbian lie would actually make students popular and they got really excited. I got excited over the idea of showing a different high school, turning that on its head and making the outcasts the "in" crowd.

You were brought in to flesh out their initial idea?

They had a premise that was without a series. Mina Lefevre, the head of scripted programming, bought my first pilot at ABC Family [10 Things I Hate About You] so we had a long history of working together and we have a good relationship creatively. She brought this idea and it's that perfect match of a good idea that resonated with me personally and also got them excited creatively for what it could do for their network.

VIDEO: MTV's Faux-Lesbian Comedy 'Faking It' Gets First Trailer

What kind of feedback have you gotten thus far? How are you hoping Faking It to be received by the LGBT community?

So far, the feedback has been almost universally positive. We met with GLAAD [in late March], the actors and I, to talk through how to discuss this show because we know that the premise is slightly controversial out there. There's definitely people who are prejudging the show as something that is not what we hoped the core message of the show is, which is of tolerance and inclusion. I think once people watch the show, they'll quickly realize that their preconceived notions of what the premise is are not accurate. I'm excited for the show to get out there, for people to find it and get them excited about the show and what these characters are going to go through.

Why tell this kind of story now?

I really believe, by articles that I've been reading, young people today are much more tolerant and inclusive when it comes to LGBT issues. They don't see them in the way that people in my generation -- I'm 40 -- see them, or god forbid, people in my parents' generation. We're seeing that with the gay marriage battle and with the striking down of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. The attitudes toward LGBT in America are changing incredibly fast. While I think this premise sounds shocking to people who are over 25, I think for many young people, some of it is going to ring true. We're probably the first show that is presenting a school that is already through it and has already shifted its perspective. I hope we're the first of many shows that present these characters as just characters. It's not that these characters are struggling over accepting themselves as gay, it's more they're struggling to accept their feelings toward their friend. That's a very different story to tell about a gay teenager that would have been told five, 10 years ago.

Who was the character that was the most difficult to get right?

Amy and Shane were both characters I really wanted to avoid typecasting or pigeon-holing. I wanted them to feel like fully-realized people. I didn't want Amy to be so obviously a lesbian at the start of the pilot that it lost [a sense of reality] -- that's not how I view myself. I view myself a big ball of so many things, some of them yes you could call stereotypically gay and some of them you couldn't. I wanted to create a character that was fully dimensionalized. For Shane, [I] really want[ed] to have a gay character that felt fun and fresh and not burdened by angst. So often we tell LGBT stories in terms of the struggle to come out; I really wanted Shane to be a character who could just be himself. It was one of the things I loved about Jack on Will & Grace -- he was such a force of nature; I wanted to have that same sort of fun and vibrancy around [Shane]. I want to see him have a love life and a world that's not him [acting] as a sounding board and a gay best friend.

In one of the early episodes, Amy and Shane have a deep heart to heart about her feelings toward her friend Karma.

Shane is going to be her gay Sherpa. In an episode, he takes her to a lesbian coffee shop -- she wants to meet a girlfriend so she can stop having these feelings for Karma. It's wonderful to work with Michael Willett, who is a young, openly gay actor who embodies the spirit of Shane. He has no qualms about his sexuality and I think that's a remarkable story, that an actor can do a role like this, be openly gay and be happy about it. It makes me very happy to have an actor like him playing this role.

How are you navigating this romantic web that you've created here early on? You have Karma and Amy, yet you also have Karma and Liam embarking on a possible romance, then there's Amy's search for her sexual identity.

That to me is what feels so fresh about this show is that we've never seen a love triangle like this. When I first pitched the network the idea, I said imagine I Love Lucy if Ethel had a crush on Lucy or Laverne and Shirley if Laverne was a lesbian -- which we all knew she was! (Laughs.) I do think there's something very unique about female friendship -- those friendships occupy a different space that's very similar to a relationship. It doesn't have the sexual energy but it definitely has the emotional components. That's what these girls have; they're planning on buying houses next to each other and spending their life together. This kiss brings in a new dynamic that neither of them expected.

Earlier, you mentioned your ABC Family days, where you spent time on Greek and the shortlived comedy 10 Things I Hate About You, and you were also on staff at The CW's Hart of Dixie. How did those prior experiences shape your approach for Faking It?

I really enjoy playing comedy and drama in the same moment. I feel like I've honed my ability to make you laugh and then make you cry. It's something I don't feel network comedies allow you the freedom to do. You can find it on pay cable comedies like [HBO's] Girls. It's unique to be given the ability to tell a story that is both comedic and dramatic. The show mines both those worlds -- it's a half-hour comedy but we pack it with so much emotion that it's rewarding on a dramatic level too.

Has there been a joke or scene that's been deemed inappropriate for MTV audiences?

I made one joke about the Holocaust that they felt was a little much, so I took it out. It's been creatively freeing to do the show that is complex and a little racy, and I think very current. If anything, they've been encouraging me to push it further, to let the show have a strong voice and not shy away from the subject matter or the idea that the show has a strong voice and a strong point of view. Case in point: I don't know another network that would let me play with the red state-blue state dynamic that we have on the show. They're not afraid of it. A lot of networks would be like, "We don't want to alienate anyone, you need to pull this back." They've never once said that.

Give us a broad idea of what the eight-episode journey will look like.

These eight episodes will track that lesbian lie. As Liam falls for Karma, Amy is becoming more sure that these feelings for Karma are not going to go away. It's those two trains coming at each other in very dramatic ways, leading to the finale.

Where is the Liam and Karma relationship headed?

We're going to learn more about Liam's troubled history, why he's such a commitment-phobe and why he's this tortured artist. There are a lot of layers to Liam; there's a whole element of his personal story that we'll hint it in the season and hopefully learn more about in season two. I wanted him to not just be the most popular guy in school. I was a huge fan of My So-Called Life and the reason Jordan Catalano [played by Jared Leto] occupied so much space in so many people's minds and hearts, is because he was so wounded and Claire Danes' character wanted to save him. I find that that's a compelling thing to see in a character.

The season ends on a cliffhanger?

Oh yes. When the network picked it up they said, "You have eight episodes, we want you to go big. Don't leave anything." I think that's TV these days. We didn't leave anything on the table; we blew it all up and we're going to put the pieces back together. It'll be a satisfying but gasp-inducing finale.

Is that a challenge, ensuring each episode has that big twist that keeps the momentum going?

It is a challenge but I think viewers expect it now. If I'm not engaged, I have so many more other things I could be doing. We tried to make every act break as shocking as we could without pushing the show into camp. We always tried to keep it grounded but also [have] big act breaks so you have to come back and see what happens before the next commercial.

Email: Philiana.Ng@THR.com
Twitter: @insidethetube