'The L Word' Creator Ilene Chaiken: "It's Still an Uphill Battle" to Take LGBTQ Stories to Screen

"It's still a predominantly white male world and there's still a scarcity of stories of marginalized populations being told," said the Emmy winner when discussing the revival of the groundbreaking drama at MIPTV.
Ricky Middlesworth
Ilene Chaiken

The L Word creator Ilene Chaiken said the reboot of the groundbreaking lesbian drama will face new challenges in the current cable landscape compared to when it became appointment television in the early 2000s.

“It's much harder to sustain excitement, and that's even true on cable,” said Chaiken during her keynote at MIPTV, chalking it up to multi-screens and ever-shortening attention spans. “It's disappointing when you lose the love, but it challenges us to set the bar higher.”

Chaiken said the L Word reboot, first announced in 2017, came about after lobbying from lead actresses Jennifer Beals, Kate Moennig and Leisha Hailey. Chaiken said she didn't want to disappoint the trio, who all reprise their roles in the revival, and felt the timing was finally right when The Handmaid's Tale premiered and created a national frenzy around female-driven stories.

She called Showtime co-president Gary Levine (who had passed on Handmaid's) and he made the decision within three days to take the L Word revival straight to series.

Chaiken, who wrote the bulk of the original episodes, has taken on an executive producing role for the new episodes in order to pass the torch on to a younger team. “I don't think I should be the one to do it," she said. "I think some young lesbian who also happens to be a gifted television writer should do it, someone who has some new stories to tell and who knows how the world has changed in 10 years and is going to bring The L Word back for a new generation of viewers.”

She continued, “I think we should continue telling the stories of some of the original characters, but they are older, too. So create some young characters and put them all in the world together."

Marga-Lewis Ryan is set as showrunner and the reboot will air later this year.

Chaiken added that audiences have become more sophisticated in the decade since The L Word first went off the air. “We don't need to tell a story that has been told before,” she said.

And while it is easier to get LGBTQ stories on air in 2019, “it's still an uphill battle and a long way to go” to see gay characters equally represented on screen, she added.

“The statistics are still grim," she said. "It's still a predominantly white male world and there's still a scarcity of stories of marginalized populations being told. It is better and it is getting better. I think the GLAAD statistics for the past year for LGBTQ representation are slightly encouraging, but we're still down in the minuscule single digits."

She also said that it's easier to get minorities and gay characters portrayed in comedies than in dramas. “It's just easier to make jokes, and I say that as someone who doesn't make jokes,” she said.

But she did joke that Showtime made a “terrible mistake” in passing on The Handmaid's Tale, which she had been trying to get made for a decade before Hulu picked it up straight to series. 

Chaiken, who is an exec producer on Handmaid's, said she couldn't take the showrunner role on The Handmaid's Tale at Hulu because she was in an exclusive deal at Fox after working on Empire, but added: “It was a dual blessing and curse, but it will always be mine.”