Jennifer Weiner: From Novelist to Showrunner with State of Georgia
Majandra Delfino and Raven-Symone
When author Jennifer Weiner set out to cast ABC Family's State of Georgia, the first show she had created, she was looking for a girl who was big in every way. She says she hit the jackpot with Raven-Symoné, but had to re-jigger the character after Raven, who was the plus-sized female with a knack for physical comedy she was looking for, lost 30 pounds.
"Originally it was written for a plus-sized girl and that was one of the important struggles I imagined Georgia dealing with," Weiner tells TVGuide.com. "She sees herself as the ingénue, as the girlfriend, but is always told, 'You're the funny best friend or you're the comic relief.' Obviously we lost some of that because we now have a girl who is a leading lady and nobody would question that, but I feel like it was a fair trade."
VIDEO: Raven-Symoné takes on the Big Apple in State of Georgia
State of Georgia (Wednesdays at 8:30/7:30c) is a fish-out-of-water comedy about two best friends who move to New York City together. Georgia is an aspiring actress, the queen bee back at home who is met with harsh reality along her journey to being a star when she's told she's too fat for a role or must take odd jobs like running around in a chicken suit. She's joined by best friend Jo (Majandra Delfino), who's pursuing her own dream of being accepted into the physics department at Columbia University.
Also featured in the series are Jo's three nerdy physics friends Louis (American Idol's Kevin Covais), Seth (comedian Hasan Minhaj) and Leo (Jason Rogel), and Georgia's aunt, played by Loretta Devine. "We've written her as somebody who has a very busy life of her own, so she shows up, pours herself a drink, says something hilarious and weird and then leaves," Weiner says, before adding, "Our two leads are brilliant and beautiful and hilarious, but the thing that might surprise you are how funny Loretta Devine is and these nerds, [which is what] we affectionately and lovingly call them."
Although the series is a comedy, it's ultimately about becoming a grown-up. "The journey these women are on, that's the serious underpinning," Weiner says. "How do you figure out who you're going to be, where you're going to live, who you're going to fall in love with, and how you maintain a friendship over years? The comedy is the skin and the muscles, but the bones are the big questions." But don't expect the show to get too serious. "Week to week it's going to be, 'I'm in love with this guy, now I can't stand him,' or 'I'm worried Jo and I are drifting apart, how am I going to fix that?' There will be serious stuff underneath, but we're never going to do after-school specials," Weiner says.
While Weiner, whose book In Her Shoes was adapted into the 2005 Cameron Diaz-Toni Collette film, loves her new role as a television writer and executive producer, she doesn't plan to give up novel-writing anytime soon. Her latest book Then Came You, which tackles surrogacy, follows four women, who, like the young ladies in State of Georgia, are motivated to achieve something they don't have. "As content and settled as each of them seems on the surface, there is something more out there for all of them," she says. "India wanting this child, Bettina wanting her family back and Jules realizing she's in love with a woman and her life is probably going to look a little different than she'd imagined it. All of them are broken in places and all of them want things they have to figure out how to get."
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Although Weiner is most famous for her books, her tweets about The Bachelor landed her a place on Time's 140 Best Twitter Feeds list. "If I'm going to be doing this semi-shameful thing, watching this cheesy reality competition that you know really has nothing to do with love, I might as well be doing it in the company of other people who love it, but hate it and hate themselves for loving it." Of course she now plans to address the reality topic in her series.
"If Georgia is a young woman who wants to be famous, then at some point it will occur to her that the quickest way to do that is to get onto one of these shows — either that or drop a sex tape and I don't think Georgia's ever going to do that," Weiner says. "Honestly, I have seen half of the cast of American Idol and The Bachelor audition for parts on Georgia (Bachelorette contestant Jonathan "Weatherman" Novak read for a part recently!), and if you're a young person looking for the fast path to fame, reality television has to look pretty good. It is completely within the realm of possibility that Georgia would go audition for one of these."
Whether Georgia is on a dating show or auditioning for a Broadway show or selling perfume at the local department store, Weiner says there will always one consistent message throughout: "There are so many young girls and young women watching, and I think it's really important for them to hear consistently from women they admire and women who make them laugh and are relatable that you're OK just the way you are."