July 15, 2014 1:06pm PT by Philiana Ng
'Selfie' Creator Defends 'Provocative' Title: It's a 'Very Rich Area' to Explore
Is the clock already ticking on ABC's freshman comedy Selfie?
Loosely inspired by My Fair Lady, the half-hour series centers on a self-obsessed twentysomething woman, Eliza Dooley (Karen Gillan) who is more concerned with "likes" than being liked. After suffering a public and humiliating breakup, she becomes the subject of a viral video and suddenly has more social media "followers" than she ever imagined -- but for all the wrong reasons.
Creator/executive producer Emily Kapnek admitted that there were discussions about going other directions with the title that could lack relevancy in the near future. Ultimately, Kapnek settled on Selfie, a word that entered the Merriam-Webster dictionary earlier this year. (Others have gone so far as called 2014 the Year of the Selfie.)
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"Selfie is a very provocative word," Kapnek told reporters Tuesday during Television Critics Association summer press tour. Rather, Kapnek felt the term was a direct descriptive to who Eliza is at the start of the show. "For us, it speaks to the disease that Eliza has in that she's consumed by this world. ... It's a descriptive word for us," she said, adding that John Cho's Henry, who serves as an adviser to Eliza, is "equally" as self-obsessed. "It felt natural to call it Selfie."
Added Kapnek: "It does feel very topical and very relevant to me. As an area to explore, that investigation of someone who is stuck behind that device and in some ways, is realizing she's not getting out of it what she thinks she is, just feels like a very rich area.
Production on the initial 13-episode order has yet to begin, but Kapnek is hoping to take Selfie "seasons and seasons." She noted that there will be some "immediate" changes made post-pilot. One aspect of the story she planned on giving significant airtime to is the "romantic appeal" between Eliza and Henry, which she admitted was a surprise, referencing key pilot moments such as Henry picking Eliza up for the wedding that Kapnek said "popped for us."
Kapnek also fielded questions about whether viewers were supposed to sympathize or judge Eliza. "At the start, it's very natural to judge Eliza and in some ways share Henry's attitudes by being repelled [by her outlook]," she said. "It's a very tall order. ... That's the hope." Kapnek noted that as the series continues, it is "very much our intention that the line between teacher and student get blurry very quickly. It is our intention to grow Henry into a character who is really right for her in some ways and vice versa."
The Scottish Gillan will be playing an American on Selfie, a decision Kapnek felt was appropriate for the story. "It's a very different story when you tell the story of a Scottish girl shunned by her coworkers. It obviously takes on an entirely different meaning. It was important to the material that she be American," she explained. For Gillan, who broke through with her Doctor Who stint, researched her character by watching hours and hours of American TV — and with trips to SoulCycle.
The pilot featured many instances where there were floating avatars and bubbles, signaling a heavy reliance on social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Kapnek insisted that a balance will be struck "where wanted it to be a presence but didn't want it to feel overwhelmingly so." Because Selfie is ultimately a story about Eliza's evolving and growing up, Kapnek posited that those visual cues could dwindle as time goes on. One such story line will see Eliza persuading the more buttoned-up Henry to join Facebook and Tindr. And while Cho is on Twitter, he admitted to having "a contentious relationship with it."
It wouldn't be a comedy without some broad comedy and Selfie features a lengthy vomit gag that Kapnek hopes they won't have to edit down or completely edit out.
Kapnek was optimistic about incorporating Suburgatory alums into the show should the opportunities arise. "If there's an opportunity to bring them in organically then I'd love to," she said.
Selfie premieres Sept. 30 at 8 p.m. on ABC.