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Almost a year after the launch of Netflix’s Gilmore Girls revival, series creators-writers-directors-producers Amy Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino are back with a new original series. Like Gilmore (and the beloved Bunheads), the husband-and-wife team have again crafted a light, quick-witted hourlong show centered on a fast-talking, whip-smart female protagonist. However, that’s where the comparisons end.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, premiering Nov. 29 on Amazon, is set in 1958 in New York City, a few hundred miles from the confines of Stars Hollow. The series centers on Miriam “Midge” Maisel (House of Cards’ Rachel Brosnahan), a married mother of two whose life is turned upside down when her husband leaves her and she suddenly discovers a hidden talent for stand-up comedy. As she navigates her suddenly tumultuous personal life, Midge also navigates her way through the stand-up comedy world, a path that will ultimately take her to Johnny Carson’s couch.
Maisel marks just the beginning of the Palladinos’ relationship with Amazon. The series earned a rare two-season pickup in April and the duo signed an overall deal there in September. The latter comes in the midst of major turnover at Amazon, which saw top-level execs, including studio chief Roy Price and head of comedy and drama Joe Lewis, exit under less-than-ideal circumstances as the studio sets its sights on finding the next Game of Thrones.
Ahead of the series premiere, THR spoke with the braintrusts behind Maisel about going back in time, their experience thus far at Amazon, the “tough” process to find their lead and, of course, the prospect of more Gilmore Girls.
How did the idea for the show come about?
Amy Sherman-Palladino: My father was a stand-up comic so I grew up with a lot of comics sitting around our backyard eating deli and talking about the Catskills and talking about Greenwich Village and touring and sharing anecdotes and trying to make each other laugh. So that premise just stuck in my weird DNA.
Dan Palladino: And all those guys of her father’s age were all starting out in the late ’50s.
Sherman-Palladino: I think it scared me perhaps in an advantageous way. When I was talking to Amazon about doing something with them, I thought that would be a good venue to do on Amazon: a woman in the late ’50s who gets sucked into that world and suddenly finds a voice and a talent and ambition that she had never known was there. And we could shoot it in New York so I could live in New York and wake up in New York and live in New York and work in New York.
This is your first period project. Most of the other things you’ve worked on are set in the present so what were the biggest challenges that came with that?
Palladino: It seemed like the perfect time to place her because there was a real sea change coming in comedy with Lenny Bruce and people like that that were not telling pre-written stand-up jokes. They were sometimes discussing things just off the tops of their heads.
Sherman-Palladino: A lot of stream of consciousness.
Palladino: Or they were talking about current events, which was edgier at the time. Those guys, Lenny Bruce especially, led to George Carlin and Joan Rivers and they led to Sarah Silverman and Jerry Seinfeld and all of that crew so it just seemed like an interesting time for her to dive in. She doesn’t look like a woman who would go into comedy. We explore how people react to how she looks and her pursuing comedy at that time in other episodes. It just felt like the perfect year to start following a woman just boldly going into this really, really impossible business.
Sherman-Palladino: Plus, we wanted to do something with some scope. We wanted to do something that had a lot of visual places to explore and 1958 New York, especially re-creating that in modern New York, is both tragically impossible and hard, and very rewarding and exciting. We have this unbelievable crew of people working with us who have made it possible so it just felt like let’s go for something that has a great visual theme to it also.
What drew you to Amazon? How did those conversations begin about working with them on something?
Sherman-Palladino: We had a really great relationship with Netflix on the Gilmore movies and we were pretty decided at that moment that the streaming world was our new permanent home forever if we ever worked again. Just because they were people that spoke our language. I sat down with [Amazon Studios head of current hour] Marc Resteghini, and he just was a guy who listened and understood and they felt like a company that was looking to do different stories. When I first was at Warner Bros. when dinosaurs were on the Earth and pitched Gilmore, The WB [the network that evolved into The CW] prided themselves as being the network that encouraged voices because they had Joss Whedon and J.J. Abrams. Sitting with the Amazon guys felt like even a broader version of that. They want those different experiences and those different characters and those different voices out there and they felt like people that would not be terrified of us and find us annoying problem children, but actually find our independent style a little delightful. So far, they are either lying or they actually do find us delightful. Either way, I’ll take it. I don’t need honesty, I just need to do my thing.
What were the specific points that made streaming so compelling as compared to cable or pay cable or broadcast?
Palladino: The main thing is once you got away from, especially the four-network model and even the cable model, there’s just room for a lot of different kinds of characters, a lot of different kinds of voices. We’ve been in this business a long time. When we started at broadcast networks, you pitch a strong woman character and you see men in the room get very nervous about a strong woman character because often they worry that if the woman is strong, she’s not going to be likable. Now you pitch a Midge Maisel, there’s no nervousness, there’s no question about that. That’s actually a pretty big sea change. It’s fantastic that that’s happened. That’s a result of having so many outlets that there’s a less uniform business model sort of guiding everybody in their choices. Because that’s how you end up with the same cop show, the same medical show over and over and over and over again.
Sherman-Palladino: The other thing about Amazon and Netflix and streaming services is because they want everybody there, they want everybody at the table, they are going to be open to a lot more. You go to some places and they say, “This is what we do. We are this so it has to fit it into our tiny little hole.” There is no tiny little hole at Amazon or Netflix, the sky’s the limit. That’s really important when you’re people like us who have very strong opinions about your work and what you want to do and aren’t interested in having to explain why you made those music choices. There’s a trust level in terms of who you are and your body of work that you don’t get at a network. They simply don’t have the trust that you’re not going to completely screw ’em over and waste their money. For some reason, there’s no trust. It doesn’t matter who you are or what your background is. You’re all the same, you’re all failures until you’ve proved differently as far as they’re concerned.
Amazon had so much trust in you they gave the show a rare two-season pickup. How did that impact you in terms of writing and planning for the show’s long-term future?
Palladino: It really helped us because we could tell specific crew because we were trying to get the best crew available.
Sherman-Palladino: You got a job next year, kid!
Palladino: It didn’t affect the longer-term plan because if you go into any series, we’re big believers that you should be able to see years down the line and a lot of writers actually don’t do that. They come up with thoughts and they actually don’t know what’s coming.
Given how the serialized the show is and you actually put in the series descriptor, this show is going to show her from discovering her talent to Johnny Carson’s couch, how long do you see the show running?
Sherman-Palladino: Thirty-five years.
Palladino: And when we say Johnny Carson’s couch, we mean the couch on set. With everything going on right now, we have to be clear.
Sherman-Palladino: In this day and age, it can mean something else completely.
Palladino: It’s the one on his set that’s on camera. We’re not hiding the fact that this is going to be a journey of success. It’s the journey that we think is going to be interesting for the audience.
Sherman-Palladino: But her personal journey is really what the show is about and so it’s not really a spoiler to say, “Oh, by the way she’s going to be famous or she’s going to be successful.” This show is really about how her shifting dynamic affects her family, her husband. It’s really about all of those personal dynamics.
Do you have a number of seasons plotted out?
Sherman-Palladino: I think we know what our trajectory is for the first four to five seasons. And then I just want to see if I’m still breathing at that point. If I am, then we’ll continue or Dan and his new wife will continue!
So much of this series hinges on the title role. How did you find your Mrs. Maisel? How long was that search and what did that entail?
Sherman-Palladino: It entailed a lot of really good actresses coming in and reading for it, which we are very grateful for. It was tough. It was a lot. It’s a tough part. And the toughest thing was we knew we were probably going to have to get an actress who was not a comic, which is what we got, and whose comedy had to be story so that they would have something to latch onto because comedy is its own animal. Great comics, they take years and years and years to hone that persona and those jokes and the timing and we wanted to be able to show the audience in the pilot when Midge goes up on stage that she has the potential of being something really great. We didn’t want to just tell the audience that, we wanted them to see it. We needed to find that one-in-a-million girl. Rachel came in and we had been told by our L.A. casting director, Jeanie Bacharach, there’s nothing on paper that says that she could remotely do that because she was mostly drama but she just felt like Rachel was special enough that she would be able to be our girl. She came in and she read and we worked with her and we talked and by the time that she left, it was very apparent that she was it. She came, she saw, she conquered.
When you were meeting with these actresses, did you actually have them read jokes or do stand-up to see how they would be in that context?
Sherman-Palladino: We had them do the stand-up scene.
Palladino: Every actress came in and every actress was off-book. They had memorized the scene and they came in to do the stand-up and it was me yelling, like the audience would, back to them and kind of applauding and trying to give them energy. It was really tough.
Sherman-Palladino: It was very grueling for Dan. It was exhausting.
Palladino: It was terrible. You should do a whole separate article on how grueling the process was for me. But really, they just came in and did it and it’s a high-wire act to do that in a casting session. Rachel knew how to approach it from a character’s point even though she was never dumb enough to try stand-up.
You signed an overall deal with Amazon, but before that there was speculation about more installments of Gilmore Girls given its success on Netflix. Right now, where do you stand on the future of Gilmore Girls and your interest in doing more episodes?
Sherman-Palladino: We’ve got the Gilmore clause, we’ve carved it out. (Laughs.) The thing about Gilmore Girls is, it’s an amorphous thing. The reason that it happened the first time is because we all went to that Austin [ATX] Festival and we all sat together and there was an open bar and we were all sitting there saying, “It feels good now, let’s do it now.” I think it would have to be a similar situation. There would have to be an open bar and we would have to have the right story and the right format and it would have to be a time where the girls and us all felt like, ‘Yeah, let’s dive in again.’ There’s nothing being planned right now but it’s open if the muse strikes.
There’s recently been a lot of executive changes at Amazon. Now that you have an overall deal, how concerned are you about going forward at the studio? How are you feeling about Amazon given those recent exits?
Sherman-Palladino: Our guys at Amazon are Marc Resteghini and Ken Lipman, and they’re still there. They’re good guys. Our people have been very constant.
Palladino: What’s kind of cool about how our brief time so far has been at Amazon is, at this point, we’re kind of like independent filmmakers or independent TV makers on our own. They know that the deal is: here’s what we’re going to try to do. Let us do it to the best of our ability, meaning like don’t throw a lot of different things at us. Take it or leave it as is, and let us do our thing and they were amazing on that with Maisel. We gave them what we promised…
Sherman-Palladino: …And they did what they promised.
Palladino: We’re still independent producers within the Amazon realm and we’re happy there because we need cameras, we need financing, we need an office, we need a home, and they’re happily providing all of that. It’s been good and we’re looking forward to a really great relationship with them.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel premieres Wednesday, Nov. 29 on Amazon Prime.
Jackie Strause contributed to this report.
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