9:35am PT by Jackie Strause
Darren Star on 'Younger' Staying Put at TV Land and Future Beyond a "Grounded" Season 6
When Darren Star's Younger returns, the big secret that has been driving the show is out. And, after expanding the ensemble of the Sutton Foster-starring comedy in season five, Younger is officially evolving beyond its central conceit in season six.
Liza (Foster), who has been lying about her age since the series began, has come clean to nearly everyone in her personal and professional worlds. Younger tackled ageism with Liza's plight to re-enter the publishing world as a 40-something pretending to be in her twenties, and the fifth season finale showed the #MeToo ramifications of Liza and Charles' (Peter Hermann) relationship being out in the open: Charles resigned from his chief position at publishing firm Empirical Press to avoid a scandal about his affair with an employee — and to save his budding relationship with Liza, who is publicly believed to be much younger. Millennial imprint up-and-comer Kelsey (Hilary Duff) has been promoted to publisher and, when season six opens, the series ushers in a new era with all-female leadership at the company.
Behind the scenes, Younger almost went through another big change. Amid a restructuring and shuffling of programming at parent network Viacom, Younger was slated to move to sister Paramount Network before it was ultimately decided that the hit series would remain at its original home, keeping TV Land in the scripted originals business.
Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, Younger's creator — who has an overall deal with Viacom and a new show on the horizon — previews a "grounded" season (the 12 episodes premiere June 12) while talking about the future of Younger ("I definitely feel like we have another season ahead of us," says Star) and sharing why he's happy the empowering TV Land series is staying put.
You have talked about growing Younger beyond an age secret. In the first episode of season six, guest star Laura Benanti (a new author and investor in Empirical) says, "We’re launching a groundbreaking publishing company run entirely by women — let’s not turn it into a pity party about ageism.” Was that your way of setting that tone?
Yes. Younger is always about the relationships, but [this season] is more about the reality of the business, with Kelsey [Duff] running this company, and what all the other characters ambitions are and how they contort and intersect sometimes, which has nothing to do with Liza’s age. Although, I do think [the secret] still plays an unexpected role in the show down the line. But it’s more about the ramifications of it.
Particularly, with Liza and Charles?
The first episode explores this glass cliff phenomenon, where women are being given leadership positions during periods of crisis and when the chance of failure is highest. This is exemplified with Kelsey, who takes over after the "scandal" with Charles. What will you expose about this modern plight facing working women?
We did research — we didn't invent it — and it felt very apropos and timely to Kelsey’s situation. It’s this idea that if you look at women in positions of power, sometimes they have the opportunity because men have screwed things up and people are saying, “Ok, it’s time to give a woman a chance!” But really, they are coming at this at a more precarious or difficult juncture. With Kelsey, it’s dealing with the reality of the stress and the pressure of what she's stepped into. And I think it’s not only about women, but it’s also about people who have ambition and who sometimes, you don’t really know what you’re taking on until you do it. Kelsey has always been an ambitious character. I really don’t think that has anything to do with her gender. It’s just about who she is; she’s driven. And [we explore] what it means to take on that much responsibility and pressure.
The beginning of this season has this feeling of taking on the patriarchy. What will you show about the post-#MeToo world of publishing?
The characters are in this situation in part because of [Charles and Liza; Charles knows the truth about Liza's age and picked their relationship over his job in the finale]. It was easier for Charles to have the relationship with Liza not under the circumstances that developed earlier. The idea that Charles is having a relationship with a lower-level employee at the firm, it just doesn’t fly today. Charles decided he would step down from day-to-day at the company and become chairman of the board so he and Liza could pursue the relationship in an unencumbered way. I think that shows we need to change the way we look at relationships in companies. But beyond that, it doesn’t come into play in a big way because it already has in such a big way.
At the Tribeca Film Festival, you teased there are heavy things ahead. What is this season building towards?
There’s two tracks. One is the corporate, which is what it means for Kelsey to be running this company. What are the challenges? And is she impervious to mistakes of her own? That’s number one. And then in terms of the relationships: Liza and Charles enter a whole new phase. They’re very out and open. Sometimes secrecy adds a jolt of excitement to a relationship and now there’s something about it that becomes more ordinary. Not in a bad way, but at the same time, there’s always that undercurrent of what Charles did to Liza and how that affects his professional life going forward.
Now that you are in season six (and Younger doesn't have a renewal yet), are you approaching finales like they could be the end? How many more seasons do you want?
We decided not to make this a series ender, for sure. As long as we have this really wonderful cast and we still have stories to tell, I definitely feel like we have another season ahead of us.
What are some of the challenges that come with making a sixth season of a show — in what ways do you reinvent the wheel and what do you hold onto?
We have characters that are still growing in their personal and professional lives. It’s kind of like you are going along with the ride, because you feel like there’s wind in the sails of these stories and these characters, in their personal lives as well. And then you look to where you are likely to be in the future. But also, what kind of stories do we want to be telling about these characters? And this season certainly sees Kelsey take on that new level of responsibility. Charles and Liza have their relationship out in the open and still, at the same time, are dealing with the professional fallout of how that happened. There is Diana’s (Miriam Shor) relationship with Enzo (Chris Tardio) and the fact that there is finally love in her life and what that means for her. And Josh (Nico Tortorella) is still in the canvas and there's what that represents for Liza. It felt like there was a lot of story to tell in this season and next season becomes something different. We sort of set the table for what that is at the end of this season.
How would you describe this season when looking at the series as a whole?
The characters are operating at the top of their game. I think it’s more grounded, in that the lie is not what is driving all these stories. It becomes so much about what it’s like to be in a relationship where you’re working in the same business, and there are things with Charles and his business that come into conflict with Liza. How do couples manage their personal-professional relationships? There's a lot of comedy and fun in the season also.
Miriam Shor (Diana) returned to direct this season. She steps behind the camera for the fourth episode, "An Inside Glob” (airing July 10). As you elevate women onscreen, are you trying to do the same behind the camera?
I do think it’s important, absolutely. We’ve always looked to have a mix of male and female directors and we have a lot of women on staff. Miriam as a director is terrific. When she puts on that directing hat, you wouldn’t know it’s her. She looks like a different person directing. We also looked to give her an episode where her character isn’t so heavy so she doesn’t have to be on camera the same time she’s directing.
Is there a favorite storyline or character that you highlight this season?
I can’t play favorites! But I will say that I’m very excited that we finally have an unexpected dance sequence with Sutton Foster that I love. I’m so happy that I got her to not only sing but also dance in the series. We did a musical number last year and we do it this year also. It’s about finding ways that organically work with our story. If anything, this season we have so many characters to service that people always ask, "Can this be an hourlong show?" This is the first season that we could have done an hour every episode. But we’re basically able to pack an hour's worth of material into a half-hour format, which keeps the show moving. A lot of times, there are storylines that end up on the cutting room floor.
From what I understand, there was sort of a changing of the guards at the top at Viacom and they made a decision that it would be better served staying on TV Land where the audience knew how to find it. Which I thought was a wise decision.
Kent Alterman, after he was promoted to overseeing TV Land and Paramount Network, said Younger was such a hit for TV Land that they wanted to keep it there. Why does TV Land feel like the right place?
Look, it’s where the show has grown all these seasons. I think it’s confusing for the audience to move it. It can also be found on Hulu and I think that’s really been helpful, also.
Have you had talks about a seventh season?
It’s really exploratory. Ultimately, it’s their decision.
But you want another one?
Yes. I think we all want another season.
From the start, did you picture you’d be six seasons in by now? Could the next one be the final season?
Season seven? Possibly. I don’t know. I think it’s kind of like we look at it one at a time. I don’t think you necessarily imagine that [from the beginning]. I think you think, "How am I going to make it through the season that we’re in?" (Laughs.)
You have a new show, Emily in Paris, coming up next. What were the talks like for Emily in Paris being on Paramount Network?
We are starting production later this summer in Paris. It’s about a girl who unexpectedly moves to Paris for a job and it stars Lily Collins. It definitely will have a cinematic feeling; with the Paramount Network, it seems like their programming has a bigger canvas to it. There was that thought of keeping [Younger and Emily in Paris] back-to-back on the Paramount Network, which they ultimately decided not to do. But those are really kind of their decisions.
What are your hopes on Emily in Paris on Paramount? Do you hope the Younger audience will hop over?
I think if you like Younger you will like Emily in Paris.
Are the WGA-ATA issues impacting Emily in Paris at all?
Not so much. We had a lot of our staff before then.
What would you like to see happen there?
I hope it’s resolved soon. I think there are ways to hire writers at the moment, but I don’t think that’s the ideal way to be working. Ultimately, there’s going to be a resolution, so I just hope it happens sooner than later.
One final question for you: Are you Team Charles, Team Josh — or Team Liza this year?
I’m always Team Liza. And yet I think the men represent different sides of her psyche, her desires and where she’s at. And Josh, simply by his presence, is never off the table. It’s a love triangle that continues to play out in unexpected ways.
Younger premieres its 12-episode sixth season on June 12 at 10 p.m. on TV Land.