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Just like its main character, Drop Dead Diva didn’t stay dead for long.
Fans of the Lifetime series breathed a sigh of relief when news came in March that the show — which had been canceled only two months earlier after talks with studio Sony Pictures Television about cost-cutting options stalled — would be returning for a fifth season. But the show, starring Brooke Elliott, did undergo some budget cuts to get a reprieve from the network.
Drop Dead Diva’s fifth-season opener, titled “Back From the Dead,” picks up from the season four cliffhanger finale in which Old Jane appeared to return to Earth in the body of Owen (Lex Medlin), New Jane’s fiance. Kim (Kate Levering) also goes public with her pregnancy — Parker (departing cast member Josh Stamberg) is the father, as revealed in the season four finale — while Grayson (Jackson Hurst) struggles with his feelings for Jane, whom he kissed moments before the wedding was about to take place (a kiss that Owen witnessed, leading to his heart attack).
Ahead of Sunday’s premiere, creator/executive producer Josh Berman talked to The Hollywood Reporter about the budget cuts, cast additions and departures and what’s in store for the characters.
The Hollywood Reporter: Can you talk about the budget cuts and what changes you had to make this season?
Josh Berman: It’s so funny because if you watch the show — I’ve seen the first three episodes, and this is the best our show has ever looked. The budget cuts are not anything fans will notice. We spent four years significantly investing in our infrastructure — everything from soundproofing to redoing the sets to buying our own Avid base for editing. We did that our first four seasons. Our capital expenditures were already made. So naturally, this would have been the time for our show to save money, and so we got very lucky. It would have been a lot more difficult if they had asked for budget cuts in our second or third season. We were able to take advantage of everything we had already done.
THR: So the audience won’t notice any major differences?
Berman: It will be seamless. In fact, I can say with quite a lot of confidence that our production values in season five are the best ever. We’ve worked out all our kinks. Every episode keeps getting better and better. The people working on the show tend to be perfectionists and love their jobs. It’s the only show I’ve worked on in season five where all the actors are still so excited to come to work, and everyone is giving more this year than ever before. Because we were given a second chance, everyone wants to make the most of it. We joke that it’s in keeping with the theme of the show — a woman got a second chance at life, and our show is getting a second chance. We want to make sure we do everything right.
THR: What was going through your mind when you learned the show was canceled? And then when you found out it was coming back?
Berman: I actually had mapped out the arc of season; I did not know we were going to be canceled. I never would have left fans in the lurch like that. When season five got picked up, I probably was the one who was the most excited because of this story that I was so dying to tell. I knew exactly how to resolve that arc.
THR: Josh Stamberg, who played Jay Parker, is exiting the show. Was that part of the cost-cutting?
Berman: Josh’s exit works seamlessly into how we’re evolving the show, and I think by the time we get to the third episode — which is a big game-changer for the series — fans will know more of why Jay is no longer at the firm and part of the show. It’s actually a big plot twist.
THR: Will we see him in any episodes this season?
Berman: I’m unsure if Josh is coming back. If he does, I’d rather keep that a secret, but Josh and I have talked about it. I love Josh, but shows naturally evolve, and the rest of the [main] cast is all back as series regulars.
THR: With Josh departing, what will happen to the story line surrounding Kim’s pregnancy?
Berman: Kim’s story line of her pregnancy is front and center and will continue to inform how that character feels and interacts. We’re bringing back her father, Larry Kaswell, played by John Ratzenberger. We’re really going in deep, and we very much tackle the issue of what an unexpected pregnancy means to a professional woman like Kim.
THR: Jane also has another new guardian angel [her third], played by Justin Deeley. What prompted you to make that change?
Berman: I kept thinking, as the show developed, what kind of character would make sense for Jane as a guardian angel right now. I realized I wanted to bring in an angel that represents Deb, who Jane was before she became Jane, a male version of a superficial entity. And I wanted to see how Jane would interact with an angel who thinks more like Deb than Jane. Justin Deeley, in my mind, is a breakout star and a great character. He is amazing.
THR: How long will we see the New Jane/Old Jane story line play out?
Berman: This is a story line that has a resolution quite soon, but we’re keeping the door open to continuing it.
THR: What’s ahead for Owen?
Berman: Not to give away any spoilers, but when you see what happens with Owen, you will understand the answers to the question about Josh Stamberg. Their two story lines intersect in a very surprising way, all of which will be answered in episode three.
THR: The tables have kind of turned, and now we see Grayson wanting Jane, while she is still in love with Owen. Will we see that love triangle play out this season?
Berman: You know, it’s so fun being able to write situations that are messy and complicated. And I think that so many of us have had feelings for multiple people, and how do we juggle that? And in TV or in movies there’s always the one, and that’s the one you want and that’s the one you go after and that’s the one you get or you don’t get. But, I think Jane — it’s complicated for Jane. She truly loves Owen, but she still has strong feelings for Grayson. So, season five is a little bit messy, and we watch Jane juggle these two men, and more importantly try to figure out what is right and wrong. What does she really want? What should she really want?
THR: And Stacey (portrayed by April Bowlby)?
Berman: For Stacey fans, it’s a huge season. She will have to make a decision on whether she wants to stay with the “pakery,” and if she leaves, what she’s going to do next. Barbara Corcoran of Shark Tank guest stars and becomes a mentor to Stacey. She plays herself, and she was terrific.
THR: Any other teasers you can give us for what’s ahead in season five?
Berman: The first four seasons were the platform for season five. Everything in Jane’s life is coming to a head, professionally and romantically. Jane has a lot to juggle, but she’s better equipped to juggle than ever before. I would say that for me, every cliffhanger of a season finale is big, but I think our best cliffhanger comes at the end of the first episode back. I think viewers are going to love it. And it was important for me as a writer that season five is very accessible to new viewers as well as rewarding to hardcore fans. For viewers who have never seen the show before, it will be super easy to join Drop Dead Diva and become a fan.
Diva’s season five premieres at 9 p.m. on Sunday, June 23. For fans wishing to catch up on the show before its premiere, Lifetime has put all of season four’s episodes on its website for free viewing. The DVD hit retailers on June 18.
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