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In the spring of 2010, Lena Dunham was being whisked from one Hollywood office to the next.
She had just scored her first bout of buzz for her breakout indie Tiny Furniture, and suddenly the industry was paying attention. “I was 23, and everyone was going, ‘There’s a YA novel that you might be good to adapt,’” says Dunham, reflecting on her many meetings at independent film companies. HBO was the first and only television network she visited.
Eager to have her voice on their network, a handful of HBO executives encouraged Dunham to put some ideas down on paper. “We told Lena we want you, just write you,’” recalls Sue Naegle, the network’s former entertainment chief, as part of The Hollywood Reporter‘s Girls oral history.
What transpired was an informal pitch — or, as Dunham describes it, “a tone poem about millennial life” — which featured nary a character nor a plot. Instead, the page and a half long document, titled “Lena,” drew comparisons to Sex and the City and Gossip Girl.
When asked about it now, Dunham laughs: “I mean, it is the worst pitch you’ve ever read,” she says. “It was like, ‘They’re everything, they’re nothing, they’re everywhere, they’re nowhere.’ It’s pretentious and horrifying, but I remember sitting on the floor, listening to Tegan and Sara in my underwear, being like, ‘I’m a genius.’”
Ahead of the Golden Globe-winning series’ sixth and final season, read the original pitch here (or click here to see the document):
Sex and the City depicted women who had mastered their careers and were now being driven crazy by the tick of their biological clocks. Gossip Girl is about losing your virginity and gaining popularity, in a world where no one is old enough to vote or has to worry about making a living. But between adolescence and adulthood is an uncomfortable middle-ground, when women are ejected from college and into a world with neither glamour nor structure. The resulting period of flux is heartbreaking and hilarious and way too human. It’s humbling and it’s sexy and it’s ripe for laughs.
Products of the recession, these girls are overeducated and underemployed, sure that they’re too smart for their positions as assistants, nannies, and waitresses but not necessarily motivated enough to prove it (or even do their jobs well enough to advance.) They have that mix of know-it-all entitlement and scathing self-deprecation that is the mark of all great Jewish comedians and many 24 year old women with liberal arts degrees.
They have varying degrees of ambition, but have been raised to achieve. They know they want to be successful long before they know what they want to be successful at.
They’re the last children of baby boomers, and the first generation to have moms who know how to text message [“HAVE U HAD AN HPV VACCINE YET? DO U HAVE HPV? LUV, MOM’] These moms probably enjoyed more swinging sex lives in their twenties than their daughters could ever dream of.
They’ve been on Ritalin since they were twelve and on birth control since they were fifteen (even if they didn’t start having sex until college)
They’re just as likely to sleep with their 40 year old boss as they are to make out like eighth graders with a 20 year old they meet at a loft party.
They’re not looking for romantic partners with money or clout. Just guys who make them feel thin, funny, or superior.
Some of their boyfriends have turned out to be gay. Others have turned out to be Republicans (these girls aren’t necessarily political, but they want to make sure abortions are a possibility. Always. After all, who can remember condoms every time.)
They still text at least one of these said exes when they’re drunk or sad.
They’ve been raised to fuck unapologetically and then apologize for it.
Grad school is their fall-back plan.
They are the Facebook generation, and ironically enough they are isolated by all the connectivity available to them (and prone to Facebook stalking and drunk-IMing and booty calls via twitter and deciphering text messages like they’re ancient hieroglyphs and blogging pictures of all the food they eat).
They are navigating the transition out of college-level codependence on their girlfriends, but will still call to announce that they got their period or saw a man masturbating on the subway or saw a man who looks sort of like a kid they went to camp with (could it be him? And if so, is he on Facebook?).
They’re beautiful and maddening. They’re self-aware and self-obsessed. They’re your girlfriends and daughters and sisters and employees. They’re my friends and I’ve never seen them on TV.
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The Flight Attendant