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When The L Word ended its six-season run two years ago, series creator Ilene Chaiken felt that there was more life left in the franchise.
While it was a natural time to wrap up the scripted drama starring Jennifer Beals, she approached then-Showtime Entertainment president Robert Greenblatt with the idea of doing a reality show. She turned to the Magical Elves, best known for unscripted hits Top Chef and Project Runway, to co-produce, and The Real L Word was born.
Now, as Chaiken’s reality series enters its second season, she and Elves co-founder Jane Lipsitz tell The Hollywood Reporter how a sexed-up second season walks the line between telling emotional stories and porn as well as why only one cast member from Season 1 returned.
THR: When you sat down to cast Season 2, what did you look for that was different from the first season?
Ilene Chaiken: When we set out to do Season 1, we had an overall mission: We wanted to make real the premises that The L Word put forward. We weren’t trying to re-create The L Word; we weren’t for looking for people who matched the characters of The L Word. We didn’t say, ‘We have to find a Shane or Bette,’ though people looked for that. We wanted to capture some sense that that world really existed because that had been my premise doing The L Word. It was confection, it was fiction, it was all made up but people constantly said to me, “That’s not real, those lesbians don’t exist.” In my experience those lesbians do exist and we wanted to capture the breath and scope of the community but make understood but that really is real and does exist.
THR: What lessons did you learn from Season 1?
Chaiken: I love the cast from Season 1 and I’m proud of what we did. But one of the challenges is that Bette Porter [Beals’ character] in real life is probably not going to do a reality show; she is not going to put her life forward in that way and it doesn’t lend itself necessarily to the genre. We realized that we stood a better chance of getting raw, honest storytelling with a cast that’s younger. We wanted people who represented a beginning, who had something they wanted from life and weren’t sure how they were going to get it and they were going to let us watch them try.
Jane Lipsitz: We wanted to reveal a more emotionally exposed cast and Whitney from last season was very open and honest and let us in on her emotional journey. We were really looking for people who would let us share their roller coaster ride of life and that really is the cast we tried to find and put together this season. Cory and Kacy are a great example: we wanted to tell a parenting story, and they are incredibly open and emotional [in their quest to become parents].
THR: Season 2 is much more sexual. Were you given any specific marching orders from Showtime’s new chief David Nevins to sex up the series?
Lipsitz: No, not necessarily to sex up the series. The marching orders were really to make a docusoap, make a series that can’t appear anywhere else that’s unique to Showtime. That encompasses a lot of freedom for us: The cast can talk more openly about their sexuality, they can swear, they can have sex. There’s a story line about drugs and alcohol.
Chaiken: To me it’s not because they’re lesbians that we’re watching them have sex; it’s because it’s part of the story. In pursing this as a premise you’re always walking a line but I love telling stories about sex. I don’t think sex is dirty, I think it’s intriguing and illuminating. If you’re going to do a show like this on Showtime when you’re bound by the strictures of broadcast television, it’s an opportunity to be more real and go in greater depths to tell the story of these people’s lives.
THR: The Playboy Channel seems to be stepping away from the porn space since the web pushes the limits so far. Is The Real L Word Showtime’s way of pushing into that space?
Chaiken: Showtime didn’t push us for it and if they ever felt like we had crossed the line they would have pushed us back. We look at what we’ve shot and we understand that the editorial choices that we make say a lot. If you make the wrong editorial choices then it starts to veer to something that people are going to call porn. We don’t think that what we are doing is remotely porn and we would never want it to be nor does Showtime want it to be.
Lipsitz: I think viewers are not coming to watch The Real L Word for the sexual content. We think they are coming to watch the show because of stories and characters. We have a luxury of when it’s appropriate using a sex scene to make that story resonate more.
THR: How far do you both see has having to go before you shock people? Where is the line?
Chaiken: The line isn’t anything that is articulated for us. We aren’t looking to shock people and we are not afraid of it.
Lipsitz: With out getting incredibly graphic, I feel like it’s the context of the sex scenes. In the first episode, Sara represented the forbidden fruit for Whitney and to make that point resonate we showed a sex scene.
Chaiken: In the Sara-Whitney story, I look at it in as a dramatist: A big part of the pull is the sexual pull. Everybody looks at Sara and Whitney and that relationship and they say question why Whitney can’t stay away from Sara; what is that irresistible pull? A big part of it is sex. There is this powerful sexual connection between them and to be able to show that allows us to tell the story.
THR: Do either of you worry about alienating the audience?
Chaiken:I don’t want to alienate the audience. I’d never set out to do that and I’d never say that I don’t give a damn about the audience. But my hope always is to keep the audience engaged and take them places sometimes that are a little uncomfortable. I believe part of the excitement and reward of making television is taking people places that they haven’t been before. I’m willing to take the risk.
Lipsitz: We feel like The Real L Word is a really exciting opportunity to tell a more honest and more gritty and more risqué story. Our intent is not to exploit the sexual art and sexual opportunity. That is has not been our intention nor will it ever be.
The Real L Word airs Sunday on Showtime.
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