The L Word Franchise Keeps It Real with New Series
The Real L Word
The L.A. lesbians are back! But this time, they're the real thing. The Real L Word, a reality show following the loving, lusting and high drama of six high-achieving West Coast gay girls, debuts this Sunday on Showtime (June 20, 10/9c). TV Guide Magazine talked to producer Ilene Chaiken, who hopes to follow her scripted hit, The L Word, with this tasty Sapphic gumbo of Real Housewives and Jersey Shore.
TV Guide Magazine: How'd you find real-life women who could live up to the characters on The L Word?
Ilene Chaiken: It's going to be interesting to see whether people think they live up. I hate reading things that people write online, but I already see "We don't want to see some real women. We want to see Bette Porter!"
TV Guide Magazine: Well, some of your reality stars are actress pretty.
Chaiken: They all are very pretty. One of them is as stunning as any actress I've ever worked with. There are two Latinas. Rose is Puerto Rican and Tracy is half Jewish and half Latino. Tracy is stunning. She's the girl who is dating someone with children. But Rose is beautiful too.
TV Guide Magazine: She resembles Grey's Anatomy's Sara Ramirez.
Chaiken: She does. I modeled the [player] character Papi in the original L Word after Rose, who I had met in passing. When I was casting that character on the show, I wanted to find a girl who was like Rose, a really sexy big girl. I could not find an actress. I would have loved Sara Ramirez.
TV Guide Magazine: The L Word characters were all friends. How about the Real L ladies?
Chaiken: They weren't but we're telling the story of a particular group of women in LA. They're all either affluent or aspiring. I was sure some would know each other and those who don't will meet. And in the first episode, three of them wind up in the same nightclub. Some found out that they had connections and got to be better friends. So they do hang out together. But we didn't plan it.
TV Guide Magazine: How long did you film them?
Chaiken: It was mainly a 12-week period of their lives.
TV Guide Magazine: Did you get a lot of women auditioning for a show that could get very sexy?
Chaiken: The Magical Elves [production company] were my partners. They know what they're doing in reality — Project Runway, Top Chef — so I left the mechanics of the casting process to them. They say they got a bigger response than most any show they've ever done.
TV Guide Magazine: Why do you think that is?
Chaiken: I think maybe lesbian is a broader category than chef. [Laughs]
TV Guide Magazine: What were your main casting concerns?
Chaiken: There were all kinds of concerns. I wanted to choose women who in some way represent the ideal of what The L Word brand is all about. I wanted a diverse cast but they had to be L Word women. I did think that we were going to find out that one of these women is not a lesbian and she's just pretending. But that didn't happen.
TV Guide Magazine: Following the L Word brand, are there any bisexual doings?
Chaiken: There's an engaged couple, Nikki and Jill. And Jill is that person who primarily has been with men before. It's a truth of life and it mirrors the Bette and Tina relationship. Nikki is her first serious lesbian relationship.
TV Guide Magazine: How sexy does it get? These are real people, not actors faking it!
Chaiken: It's very different with real people and I wasn't about to say to these women, "If you want to be on this show you have to get naked and have sex." I trusted that everybody has a different level of comfort and personal boundaries. I trusted that some of the women would be more comfortable than others. It does get pretty sexy. One person in particular is much more open and the women she's with turn out to be more open. Some of the other stories get very, very sexy, but without being explicit.
TV Guide Magazine: The series opens with these real women talking very, let's say clinically, about their first sexual experience with a woman. And I kept thinking: this isn't an actress doing a script. This is some chick talking very frankly about real women's body parts.
Chaiken: We can talk about things frankly on premium cable. But there was one cast member who was not comfortable saying [a slang term for a female sexual organ] and I was like, OK, this is an interesting real moment.
TV Guide Magazine: If this is a success, do you picture following the same women over time or do you want to bring in new groups each season?
Chaiken: My fantasy is that we would continue to follow this group of women, if they want to continue doing it. If it does well, then we branch out and do other cities.
TV Guide Magazine: Does the show get crazy in a Housewives-turning-over-tables way?
Chaiken: It doesn't get crazy in the same way. One of the promises of the Housewives is that everybody's behaving badly. There are a few moments when people behave badly in The Real L Word. But I feel that it's more authentic, more revealing of character.
TV Guide Magazine: Rose is Papi. Will we recognize any other L Word characters? Whitney juggles girlfriends in the same insouciant way as Shane.
Chaiken: Personality wise, she's not like Shane. But yes, everybody will say she's the Shane. She has four girls going at once. And she's the one who allows the cameras to be with her at the most explicit moments. And as I said, Rose, like Papi, is a player. She's trying to settle down and have a relationship. But she behaves very badly.
TV Guide Magazine: Some of your favorite moments?
Chaiken: There's a great Valentine's Day episode, very succinct and touching and says so much about how we deal with romance.
TV Guide Magazine: How much access did they give you? Were cameras running pretty much all the time?
Chaiken: Quite a lot. Not when they were asleep. But sometimes we were with them when they woke up in the morning. We really tried to be there for the ultimate intimate moments of their lives.
TV Guide Magazine: What's the toughest part of doing a reality show as opposed to scripted shows?
Chaiken: It's been really interesting to try and figure out how to tell good stories that you're not in control of.
TV Guide Magazine: Can we assume the ladies didn't always do what you hoped for?
Chaiken: No! I'd say I'd really like for a guy to hit on her now so we see what happens. It was not happening and I had to get used to it. But there are lots of good stories.
TV Guide Magazine: How much does the glamour of The Real L Word live up the original one?
Chaiken: Sometimes it really does. Not everybody is as fabulous. The big difference is that on the scripted show, people who had no business having fabulous clothes and wonderful apartments did. [Laughs]
TV Guide Magazine: Like Friends.
Chaiken: That's the analogy I gave all the time when they said, "Lesbians aren't really that pretty." I'd answer, "Are your friends as good looking as the people on Friends?" But these women are stylish too.
TV Guide Magazine: Even the so called "butch" Mikey, has style.
Chaiken: Exactly. Mikey is certainly the butchest of the bunch and proudly, but she's in the world of fashion and she's got a lot of style.
TV Guide Magazine: Do you think fans will be more sensitive knowing that they're real women?
Chaiken: In a way, it's a great defense. I didn't make this up. They can still challenge the choices we made, if we represented in all the ways everyone wants us to represent.
TV Guide Magazine: There are no African-Americans among the women.
Chaiken: It's a diverse cast, but there's no African-American in the cast. We didn't have as many African-American women applying to be on the show. If we were to do another version of it, it would be a priority for me to find an African-American cast member.
TV Guide Magazine: Is there still an L Word movie in the works?
Chaiken: I would love to do an L Word movie. It's about when I can find the time to write it. I know what the movie is. I know that my cast really wants to do it.
TV Guide Magazine: Except Mia Kirshner.
Chaiken: She doesn't want to do it.
TV Guide Magazine: Well, her character Jenny is dead.
Chaiken: Exactly. Mia's not happy about being dead. I think she should have embraced it. And I was sad that she wasn't into it. But everybody else is dying to do it.
TV Guide Magazine: If you do the movie will we find out who killed Jenny?
Chaiken: If I were to do an L word movie I would like it not to be about who killed Jenny but have a very different storyline. It would be more like the beginning of the show and the celebration of lesbian life and romance, that comedy of manners.
TV Guide Magazine: Is your L Word spinoff with Alice imprisoned for killing Jenny completely dead?
Chaiken: Yes. And since Showtime didn't pick it up, I'm going to say that Alice did not kill Jenny. That was a little disappointing because I thought we made a really good pilot. And it wasn't an L Word spinoff really. That one character was in it but it was a very, very different show.
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